Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanks-Essay 6: Grateful...

... today.



Steam room.

(Specifically Dawn Upshaw's singing some from A Rake's Progress.)



Spring weather in Fall.

San Francisco, Man From.
(Arriving Saturday for a long weekend.)
(Requiring great patience for 3 days more.)

Spilled ginger ale on Macbook keyboard.
(From Sunday night.)
(So machine stays powered-down for 3 days to dry.) 
(Freeing evenings ((from web-surfing habits)) for making snickerdoodles.)
(And ((more)) sleeping.)
(i.e. small blessings.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanks-Essay 5: Mondays, mortality

I read on Facebook this morning that a girl (woman now of course, mother of 3 teenagers) who went to high school with me died yesterday of fast-moving colon cancer. She and I were always just acquaintances and not friends and were never really in touch, but she was a good friend to many of my friends, and since I read the news her face as I knew her then, back in Cando, keeps floating up ... blonde, boisterous, saucer-eyed wild child with the biggest laugh ever, bangs teased to a tower, cadre of equally boisterous and loyal girlfriends with whom to cruise Main looking for the parties, her 80's era sports car a fixture at Bob's parking lot for years.  She could not have known then that this would be how her life would end 20 years later ... although of course, none of us can know the hour or the time of our own ends.

Concurrently, today has turned into a very hard day for 2 of my other friends, coping with their own crushing loss of a similar sort. Watching, listening, wanting to help in whatever way but not knowing how, I am humbled (again) by the resiliency of the human spirit when faced with the things in life that can quickly become awful. These friends are able to, as they often do even in benign circumstances, approach the day with grace and selfless consideration of where it will fit into the larger scope of their lives -- and that in this case, it will somehow shape their futures in the way God somehow means them to be.

Again, can I possibly always remember this -- even in the good times? -- this edict that seems so obvious today, this necessity to live as if you can't know what the next day will bring, or how your life will change, or shape others, or end?

"There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -- Albert Einstein

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks-Essay 4: To Not Griping

Got into work quite late today ... the result of staying up very late.  As in sun-coming-up late and not because I wanted to be.   As in:  for the first time in months being up with heart-racing insomnia that didn't abate with a hot bath, with rereading transcripts of past fond chats with MSF, with the eating of a plate of cold turkey breast at 4:30, or even pulling out EB White's "One Man's Meat" for folksy storytelling distraction.

I'm blaming Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, the account of a Mt. Everest expedition featuring loads of high-altitude frostbite, delusions, and death.  I love the book and have already read it 3 times -- and for reasons unknown, last night was the night it decided to disturb the living shit out of me. 

It took pulling the laptop into bed, queuing up the cartoon Ratatouille, and letting the happy rat chef make some splendid soup before my brain shut off and heartbeat relaxed and I drifted off at about 6....only to wake myself up with a dream about riding bike across an f#$%ing ice bridge while looking down at an endless crevasse in either direction.

Oy. Hope the pleasant dreams MSF wished me before we said goodnight at least came true for him.

Not to gripe, though.  Last night I guess I could have been at Wal-Mart, getting pepper-sprayed by a fellow video-game shopper.

It's in this context -- a bit sleep-deprived, a bit sated from the food and fellowship of yesterday, a bit daunted with the to-do list that awaits these last November days -- that I was grateful to see David Brooks' Times column today editorializing on his project, "The Life Reports".  His request:
"If you are over 70, I’d like to ask for a gift. I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way. You can write this as a brief essay or divide your life into categories — career, family, faith, community, and self-knowledge — and give yourself a grade in each area.
Of course I read most of these essays this morning, here at work in our sparsely-populated office after having death dreams and not sleeping... and promptly started crying.  But even if you had productive slumber and are reading this blog entry in your pajams with coffee and curled up in front of a fir e... I highly suggest them for your post-Thanksgiving glad-you're-not-out-shopping-instead reflection.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks-Essay 3: Garlic Mashed

I hereby declare there has been too much talk of weight loss, exercise and healthy eating on this blog. 

I also hereby declare that if you have never tried my sister Missy's legendary Garlic Mashed Potatoes recipe, you are Missing Out.  Full Stop. 

It is not too late to get to the grocery store for an extra block of cream cheese. Go.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  5 lb bag of potatoes – russet or red
  1 stick of butter or margarine
  4 to 8 oz cream cheese (to taste)
  8 oz container of sour cream
  Fresh garlic to taste – minced as small as you can make it
  White onion to taste – minced as small as you can make it
  Garlic salt, onion powder, salt and pepper – to taste

1. Scrub and cut up potatoes (do not peel) and place in a large pot. Cover with water.
2. Bring to boil and cook 20-25 minutes (smaller pieces cook faster). Drain.
3. Mash potatoes and add all ingredients. If you have a mixer, it works great for mashing and mixing the potatoes thoroughly!
4. Serve immediately OR refrigerate (up to 3 days) or freeze and serve up to 10 days later (maybe longer?).  For re-heating, put potatoes (still frozen) in a 350 degree oven for 1-2 hours – the deeper the dish, the more time they will need. I actually think they are better reheated because the flavors have all melded together!

Oliver is a fan

Variations and adaptations!
  Use garlic salt and onion powder instead of fresh – almost as good, and way less work!
  Peel your potatoes and have more “presentable” potatoes (as my grandma would say…)
  Play with the amounts of butter, sour cream and cream cheese – you may find you like more or less of any and all of these; altering them changes texture and taste.
  For a unique taste, sauté the onions and garlic first with butter!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks (Photo)-Essay 2: Iced Coffee

Once upon a time,
there was a girl just out of college
who worked hard at her job
and stayed up all night, many nights,
thusly leaning heavily on her daily caffeine supply.

The girl drank easily 4
(or 5, sometimes mixed with orange juice)
cans a day (and night). 

She is (and was!) not totally clueless,
but the girl somehow forgot about the
46.5 grams of sugar that accompanied each
54 life-saving milligrams of caffeine.

She also spent a lot of time stressing about
writing school board stories
and not sleeping very well. 

By the time she left her job to go to grad school,
she looked kinda like this.

That year,
the girl started waitressing in a cafe with
 3 flights of stairs,
then walking home every day
from the Theater District to the Fenway. 

She had nothing against Mountain Dew,
but at the same time discovered that
Boston runs on Dunkin',
and that coffee on ice with cream and sugar
tastes kinda like a soda and is
cold and refreshing like a Dew
with 4 times the caffeine content.

She eventually went to a quarter-portion of the cream and
subbed artificial sweetener for the sugar
and often added espresso on top.

She started drinking it for the coffee taste.

She even started making it for cheap at home.

Real-time photo

The girl has probably drank 5 cans of Mountain Dew
in the last 12 years. 
She's drank approximately 4,000 glasses of iced coffee
in the same timeframe.

And today she looks kinda like this.

With her lovely sisters


I think not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanks-Essay 1: Friends Who Run

Saturday was being one of those days.

Yes, even a Saturday can start out being one of those days, when it involves a mid-morning landlord visit requiring finding and eliminating every kernel of stray cat litter (and hair) from premises, followed by an impromptu 3-hour nap (3-hours! as if a sick toddler!) complete with sweaty nightmares that not only left me more tired than before I started but sucked up 3 of the 4.5 hours of available afternoon sunlight. (And 4:30 p.m. sunsets suck, people. Even if they're pretty.) Followed by a trip to Family Dollar Store confirming that because there are now 15 aisles of stupid, cheap Christmas decorations, there is no longer room for 30-cent cans of cat food.

It was in this moment, while rounding the corner of Dorchester Street and Broadway and muttering about stupid, cheap Christmas decorations and overgeneralized holiday commericalization, I was blindsided by the blaze-orange sprinting shoes and the figure of my dear friend Chris. Indeed sprinting by. A friend who runs like the wind, but lives in Roxbury and wouldn't generally be in this hood this hour. 

As he quickly explained:
"I just stopped by your place. I was headed out and realized today I wanted to run to Southie, but didn't think to call you until I was on my way.  Wanted to see if you wanted to go for a run."
It was 3:30 p.m. and I was still in my pajamas, drowsy and bed-headed. But had I been in Family Dollar Store for 30 seconds longer or shorter than I had, Chris and I would have missed each other. The day was crying out for a divine kick-in-the-pants ... and it appeared.

By 3:45 I was in shorts, tech top and Asics and he and I were jogging west towards the other side of town. Chris is a much (taller and long-legged and) faster runner than me .... even with him cutting 2-minutes-a-mile off his pace, I chugged hard to keep up and not feel the guilt of boring him.  But I kept up. We conversed in that necessary way friends who get too busy need to converse, passing the 4 miles to Roxbury in no time.

By the time we reached his home and I set out for the return trip (in the end, 8.75 total), the sun setting behind me in the cool afternoon, I was glad and grateful.  To have shifted my day's attitude so thoroughly.  To have run faster and longer than I would have ever done by myself.  To have the privilege of such an awesome, selfless friend in my life ...

....especially one who runs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Best. Lyrics. Ever.

Such Great Heights 
by The Postal Service 
(sung more contemplatively, below, by Iron & Wine

 I am thinking it's a sign
That the freckles in our eyes are mirror images
And when we kiss they're perfectly aligned
I have to speculate
That God himself did make
Us into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay

True, it may seem like a stretch
But its thoughts like this that catch
My troubled head when you're away
When I am missing you to death
When you are out there on the road
For several weeks it shows
And when you scan the radio
I hope this song will guide you home

They won't see us waving from such great heights,
"Come down now", they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
"Come down now", but we'll stay...

I tried my best to leave
This all on your machine
But the persistent beat it sounded thin
Upon listening
And that frankly will not fly
You will hear the shrillest highs
And lowest lows with the windows down
When this is guiding you home

They won't see us waving from such great heights,
"Come down now", they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
"Come down now", but we'll stay...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blunt observation

Something about there existing

anywhere in our world today

(or in any world anywhere)

a headline (on Yahoo! News)


"'Sexiest Man Alive' Stirs Backlash"

says to me that

maybe the End Times

are not far off.

Evidently this man is NOT sexy.
Who knew.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take Back Thanksgiving

I'm a fan (as you can see by the blogroll listing to the lower right) of the highly-trafficked  healthy living blog Carrots 'N' Cake.  The author, Tina, lives on the South Shore and writes several times a day about food, exercise, running, etc. etc.

On Sunday, she wrote a post about her frustration with current society's (mostly retail-based) trend of celebrating Christmas too early, and how it bypasses the arguably longer-traditioned and more-observed Thanksgiving holiday.  Then today she put in a plug for a website by allrecipes.com called "Respect The Bird."  The site implores folks to .... do just that ... and pledge to "restore Thanksgiving to its rightful place as a meaningful, respected American holiday, not one that’s merely a one-day delicious afterthought between Halloween and Christmas."

"Tapping into its original roots—thankfulness, a celebration of friendships, family, and gifts from the earth—Respect the Bird supporters want to create a Thanksgiving experience extending beyond meal planning. It is, after all, one of the treasured holidays that’s not about spending."

Organizers even put out a list of "suggested activities" to keep pledgers focussed on the task.

Corny a bit?  Yeah.  Sure.  But I'll be the thousandth person to admit to feeling nauseous and annoyed  at the sound of Christmas carols in department stores and the telltale red, snowy cups in Starbucks.

So I'm on board.  Please feel so moved to do the same -- even if just in your mind.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Impermanence of objects

I last saw C-2 in June.  I last sought him via text in August, when running by Spy Pond late one night and feeling nostalgic.  He last sought me via text late one night in September, in Boston for a candidate's primary election, but it was a highly inopportune time for me and I declined.  He then e-mailed in October, also at an inopportune time, (nervily) asking me to volunteer on said candidates's general election campaign.  I declined.   Last week while in town for the general, on a night I couldn't sleep, he messaged at 2:45 to say, "Hey, you're already up, we should get coffee?"  I again declined.

Please tell me you all are pleased with my behavior. 

I'm pleased with my behavior. Especially since all denials were made without hesitation.

Funny then, my reaction when C-2 showed up in my Facebook feed this weekend -- a new profile photo, because he had gotten new eye glasses "after 8.5 years."  I found myself the tiniest bit depressed.  One thing I enjoyed about kissing him was that moment, after our respective lenses began creating a mild bonfire from scraping together, when he would stop and quite deliberately take my glasses off for me, set them on the dashboard, then take his off and do the same, at which point we'd quite get down to business.

Now those glasses have changed -- they'll never be the ones he took off to kiss me in -- and it's as if a link has expired.

Take that along with my growing conviction that (dictated by deterioration and expense) my car's registration and insurance should not be renewed in 2012, and that perhaps I should donate it for a tax deduction before Christmas.

The memories of that car ... full of so much more than kissing.

Oy.  I'm forecasting un-tiny depression, soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebration of Eleven (and Nigel)

With all due respect to Veterans Day
(and I do respect it and the veterans it honors)

this year's commemoration really does have to include
a shout-out to British mocku-rocker Nigel Tufnel
from the world's loudest band This Is Spınal Tap
and his amplifier that goes to 11.

Luckily, there is a group dedicated solely to that purpose:
The Nigel Tufnel Day Appreciation Society and Quilting Bee in Favor of Declaring & Observing November 11, 2011 as Nigel Tufnel Day (in Recognition of Its Maximum Elevenness),
doing most of the heavy lifting
in memorializing the genius whose seminal work includes
"Tonight I'm Going to Rock You Tonight," "Big Bottom," and "Lick My Love Pump".

Thanks, Nigel,
for always keepin' it real.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thoughts on focus and practice

I've already said this a couple times (here and here), but I'm struggling to write much meaningful in the face of momentous occasions and a steamer trunk's worth of conflicting emotions about them. 

It's not just the blog.  Focus on any task feels taxing:  suitcase still open and full of last week's clothes, and now I've started throwing this week's clothes into it;  paperwork at work I swore I'd do Tuesday and today don't know how and where it'll fit; wanting to blow off steam by playing piano but without the energy to set up my keyboard, resting on its end in the living room where I left it 3 weeks ago after transporting it back from a concert.  Three weeks ago.  I'm becoming frustrated at this scatteredness. Been on this earth awhile, have accomplished some things, and know I know how to focus. I don't know where this knowledge has seeped to.  

(Come back, dear friend....)

When starting this entry, about 2 sentences in, I said to myself, "Girlfriend, people do not read this blog to hear more of this low-level negativity and the same lack of focus issues we all face in moments.  It is 60 degrees on November 10 and the end of the tunnel is showing at work and you had a solid sleep last night and tomorrow is Happy Nigel Tufnel Day.  Chin up!"

But truthfully, I'm not in the mood to censor myself.  Today I just want to write about lack of focus.  The end.  And, I'm deciding I'm going to stop apologizing for it.

Presciently, a friend yesterday alerted me to a piece on the blog of novelist Steven Pressfield, regarding the so-called "10,000 Rule": 
"The rule says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, be it brain surgery or playing the cello, she must put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. Since a thousand hours seems to be more or less the maximum we humans can handle in one year, ten thousand hours equals ten years."
I've been writing this blog for 3-and-a-half, although I've probably spent at least 20,000 hours in my life writing something; very little of it has been focussed, though.  Using that calculus, I've probably got 25 years of blogging to go before mastery. Sobering. However, the resonance of this piece was less about that and more about what he spoke of next -- which is that the time and practice of a skill allows the self-censoring to fall away and the individuality to emerge. 

To wit:
"How does the actor get past his own excruciating self-consciousness? How does the entrepreneur come up with an idea that’s really new? The answer is they both beat their heads against the wall over and over and over until finally, from pure exhaustion, they can’t “try” any more and they just “do.” The writer says f*** it and writes a sentence in a way he would never imagine himself writing a sentence, and to his amazement that sentence is the first real sentence he’s ever written."
"To speak in one’s own voice means to let go of all the other voices in our heads. Whose voices? The voices of what is expected of us. Yes, that means the voices of our parents, teachers, mentors. But it means something more elusive too. It means our own expectations of what we should be doing or ought to be thinking—what is “normal” or “right” or “the way it ought to be.”
"The price of achieving that breakthrough is time. Time and effort. Ten thousand hours if you’re lucky, more if you’re not. The gods are watching for those ten thousand hours, like instructors at Navy SEALs training. They can tell when we’re faking and they can tell when we’re for real. They can pick out those of us who really want it from those who are only pretending.

"In the end those ten thousand hours must be their own reward—which is the way it ought to be, don’t you think?"
Which is the way this blog has and, hopefully will continue, to resonate with both you and me. Despite the occasional scattered times where I'm trying to find my brains and my gut and my legs and the next steps I can take forward even if all aren't quite intact.

Anyway. Getting today's blog entry off my plate.....it is leaving me the time to focus on work.  Really.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday jumble

Weather not requiring even a fall coat.  First decent run in 10 days.  Suitcase open on bedroom floor, clothes jumbled and wrinkled .  Dishwasher full of clean dishes, sink full of dirty ones.  Desk stacked with trustee changes to facilitate and cost-basis updating projects and new accounts to open, left over from 5 days out of the office, now reaching semi-critical completion necessity.  Cats spastic from lack of my attention, taking claws to the duvet and dining room chairs.  Reflecting on vacation that contained just one rank certainty -- that Cousin J and her husband were meant to be married and did so -- compounded by so much family love, affection, coffee, cookies and friends who traveled from all over, that the heart is still full.  Reflecting even more on all the uncertanties of a vacation where cousins and sisters let emotions and opinions hang out and a grandmother tripped briefly into a life-threatening situation and a long-distance boy instigated more fruitful, more emotional, and more wrenching conversations than previously thought possible.  To the point where the mind is still as jumbled as the unpacked clothes -- getting through the stacked tasks of today impossible, much less thinking of all the things that could and might come after. 

With thanks for the mild outside and the near-empty bottle of Maker's Mark inside and the strong feeling emanating this way from the Midwest and beyond.

Wednesday addendum:  Love this photo of Dad and me from the wedding reception (one of many provided to this camera-less girl by Cousin J's maid-of-honor, Tashia). We don't get to see each other nearly enough.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sorry to be lame... (blog-cation)

.... but this trip around, I'm having a difficult time thinking about blogging while vacationing.  

Marathon-completion emotional fall-out and the What Next.  Parsing through some emotional ups-and-downs with MSF, only from a 2-hour time difference instead of 3.   Family time in large quantities, particularly with folks I don't see often.  Crisp, blue, central Minnesota skies .... cruising down 2-lane roads in mid-afternoon with sunglasses on, coffee in hand.  Cousin J marrying the love of her life and the witnessing of amazing union and fellowship.  

I'm not sure these things need to be dissected .... but, rather, experienced and taken as they come.

Thanks for allowing me a brief blog-cation.  See you next week.