Monday, December 31, 2012

Burning 2012 (New Year's Eve Inspiration)


"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." - Neil Gaiman 


Burning the Old Year
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Starting with the Kitchen

We are a few coats of paint, a back door, some trim details, and 2 glass cabinets away from my kitchen being totally done.

Here's a preview of the transformation, even with all those details forthcoming:

I am not kidding when I say that this renovation has changed my entire house.

Every time I go downstairs I am caught off-guard by the space; I jump back a little, surprised that this stunning kitchen is in my house. I made this decision, I thought about this for a year (hey, a girl can be indecisive if she wants), and ultimately I paid for every last bit of it, down to the drawer pulls. So whenever I enter the space, I am aware of how much of my energy is in it. It's the most "me" space in this old house.

Tonight I cooked my inaugural supper: my favorite quinoa salad and some roasted root veggies (turnips, golden beets, stripped beets, parsnips).

You probably are looking at that photo impressed by those fantastic crinkles on the golden and stripped beets. I was lucky enough to inherit a small crinkle-cutter tool from my mother, that she inherited from her mother. To my mom's great dismay, I constantly make jokes about the things I'd like to inherit - the beautiful artwork my Grandpa made, the sideboard from my mom's childhood home, the small bits & pieces of so many loved relations. (Okay, so I admit it's a touch morbid and also materialistic, but these objects hold important memories in addition to being pretty. And I can't not state my wishes or else my big brother will swoop in and claim my rightful inheritance.) Well, all that joking aside, having in my possession one of the most random kitchen tools out there, that was once used by my Grandma Bernice to crinkle-cut her vegetables, fills me with overwhelming amounts of joy. I love thinking about the quirky women of my family using this quirky little tool.

And now for rather big kitchen decisions: do I put my spices in a drawer - like I saw the fabulous chef in Mississippi, aka Joseph's mom, do - or do I put them on a rack? Either way I have over flow I will need to deal with. Decisions, decisions. 

As I instructed myself,  I will be making new maps, starting with the places and things I love. The kitchen is the perfect space to begin my mapping: it has so much good intention in it, so much room for growth and creativity.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

mapping a life

Let's jump right in, ok?

There was this moment right when I got back from my trip and was walking through the airport to catch public transportation home, when I caught my reflection in the darkened window. Walking beside me was my mother. The facial expression, the way the hair fell in my face, the tilt of my shoulders: it was all her. I hurried on, avoiding eye contact with the eerie and unsettling doppleganger walking beside me.

Perhaps the last few days here, in the place I've chosen as my adult "home," have been such a struggle because I have been haunted by that moment.

Whenever I go to my childhood home for a few days, it feels like exiting one life to enter another, rather than a seamless movement between spaces, a consistent life. I feel different there - more exhausted, more withdrawn, more critical. It's especially bad, I'm realizing, to go home when my heart is hurting.

I don't feel myself when I'm in my childhood home, and my parents and I don't have a relationship where we confide in each other our hopes or joys, let alone our heartbreak. When my heart is aching, I just want to feel whatever I am feeling openly and connect with the people who know me best. So to be in the space where I feel least like myself, is like an affront to the self that is barely keeping it together.

And then to be back here, with this shadow reminder - this literal reflection in the glass - of how much we are parts of our past, even when we've built a whole life to be distinct and move confidently into the future we dream of, well it's a lot to carry. Things start to fray a bit...

I want to enter 2013 with a refocus on my intentions for my life and work, which at the core is about the ways my life can be giving and be connected to community. Which, I know, is a rather funny sentiment to be expressing in a completely self-indulgent blog. Let's just say, baby steps

I thought of this today, while I was driving to meet a friend and her boyfriend. I was feeling dull - this new word I have been overusing that I think represents my greatest fear for my life and myself: that I will do nothing and live a rather forgetable life. A radio program was on, and as I heard the voice start to talk about mapping, I started to shift my focus from my fear of dullness to the conversation coming out of my car speakers. The host was saying something along the lines of: Map making means ignoring everything in the world but the one thing being mapped. 

He went on to say we make maps to make sense of the chaos in our world.

I suddenly realized, the map I have been making for myself has gotten me off-course. It's been adding chaos instead of clearly away clutter.

It's like I have been frantically trying to make sense of everything such that I have way too many keys on my map for it to tell me anything. I've been mapping the ways I'm broken, the ways I am alone, the reasons I will always be alone, the ways I am stressed, the ways I don't have enough time, the ways my family is screwed really, the map I have been drawing for myself for some time is a map of all my failures and fears. And when this is what I am referencing all the time, it's no wonder I feel I have lost my way.

I am mapping the worst, so I am ignoring everything else in the world. For me then, it's true: map making means ignoring everything in the world but the one thing being mapped. 

Perhaps the bigger fear, the fear at the core of feeling dull, is that I will get so trapped inside the worst-case-scenario-map of my life, that I won't do anything. I won't move out of my fears and my criticisms of the world, I will be so scared of the world being disappointing, that it will be. It's easy to  lose sight of the good when your map is focusing on the potholes, the cracks in the sidewalk, and the dark corners.

It's time to draw a new map.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Thankfully, unlike other home-for-the-holidays, this visit was not the usual. I spent most of my break  just snoozing in various sunny spots around my childhood home, petting my parent's very cute pup, but mostly existing in a state of tuned-out/turned-off. And when I did leave the house, I avoided all questions from family friends regarding my love life. I certainly did chuckle to myself a few times as I reflected on my recent discovery.

I'm back home to my little blue house and an almost completely renovated kitchen. It's so beautiful and I cannot wait to cook something with quinoa in it very soon. (Or maybe an old favorite.) I imagine a lot of my happy moments will occur in this gorgeous space that so many individuals have helped me create. I bought this century home with the deep hope that I could be an owner who made it better. Try as I might, I can't put into words how it feels to be achieving this dream of mine. It's sunshine on my face. It's hearing the laughter of my beloved nephew. It's the first lilac bloom of the spring.

A week from tomorrow I start the last year of my twenties, and so I imagine the next few entries of this here blog might be a touch over-analytical. I am a bit of a goal-setter, a balancer of the small and big picture aspects of my life, and especially at the start of a new year I get really into looking backward and then looking forward.

Intention-setting starts soon.

First, though, a poem.

Year's End
by Ted Kooser

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red feather on the wind.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hello: Little Joys

Putting your needs and intentions out into the universe can be a powerful thing.

I arrived home today to find two treasures in my mailbox.

The invitation to be a special part of a very special friend's big day:

A letter from a dear friend rambling about what makes the world go round:

Oh, and did I mention, some freshly baked cookies awaited me at my desk this afternoon:

I also have a working kitchen sink! And a beautiful space developing before my eyes:

And two friends asked me how my roots and branches are.

Taking root. Stretching.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three simple words

This week I've been nurturing a lot of people through life disasters and milestones...I've been keeping it all together so I can keep other people from falling apart...I've been worried about my family but listening to other people express angst over theirs...I've let a friend cry for five straight hours about her failing marriage without once mentioning my heart was aching a bit too...I have nodded along as coworkers gripped about bosses, deadlines, projects that couldn't be completed in time, but haven't told them I am dead-tired and overwhelmed from the stress of taking on the responsibilities of a coworker who recently left, that I too have something to moan about.

I've just been listening - listening to traumas big and small. Listening and advising and reflecting alongside, and being the rock and being the dependable one, and all the while needing a rock so bad.

While I love being reliable for my community, the need for someone to lean on is so great in me right now that I don't know if I can listen to one more life story without someone asking me as well, How are you? 

Three simple words.

I need someone to want to know how I'm doing.

I'm overflowing with conflicting emotions...and hurt large and hurt small...and hopes and wishes...and the experience of missing and the desire for closeness...and never ending ellipses...

I need someone to hear my contradictions and let the space between us fill with how I'm doing.

I don't normally ask.

But last night my evening meditation told me: Know you have roots. Know you have branches. And I just needed tangible evidence that someone out there cares about how I am growing in this world. A moment of certainty where someone wonders out-loud: How are your roots? How are your branches? How are you?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Poetry

Great Things Have Happened
by Alden Nowlan

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, "Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time." But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn't mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

"Is that all?" I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The World of What If

Yesterday morning, I sat in my cold car, on a street that's not my own, and watched the ice on the windshield crack and melt from the heat of my warming engine. In this strange, wonderful way it was beautiful: the warm air hitting the cold glass made formations that were like algae or fungus, blooms growing and shrinking before my tired eyes.

Just beyond the algae blooms, I watched this beautiful person, whom I've known only a short while, walk away. She stumbled over chunks of ice, her small dog skittering around her. It seemed unlikely I would see her again - or at least not anytime soon. Unlikely that this idea of "us" would go any further than this moment - which happened to consist of me shivering in my car and she shivering a few yards away on the sidewalk. It seemed terrible that we were both shivering alone. I suddenly wished I'd looked at her for one moment longer than I had. I wanted to jump out of my cold car and hold her, so at the very least we could be shivering side-by-side.

Even if you sense something is ending, there is a moment of panic in the moment you realize it's crumbling: have I gotten my bearings? Have I taken in this last moment? Can't I just look into your eyes one more time before you walk out of my life? Maybe it's the cartographer in me: the part of me that needs a map to look back on, a map to see where I got off course, but also where the views were noble.

So there I was in my car, about to drive off, looking at my own little tragedy, unaware that across the country small, innocent lives were coming to an abrupt, violent end.

Life feels very sadly poetic in this way.

I've held off on putting to paper my feelings about this new person in my life, not because I was doubting what was so unexpectedly occurring, but because I was just simply enjoying it for once and wanted to do nothing but enjoy it. Oh, to just share time with someone witty and smart! Time feels so limitless and yet so full when the company is good. Holding hands and drinking tea, sending flirty, careful texts, making snowpeople together in the fast-falling flakes, laughing wildly in bed, whispering our hopes, and talking about who we were and who we could be, as individuals mostly, but also, possibly, together.

Today I've spent a lot of time not wanting to be out in the world. I haven't wanted to face a world that can be so cruel on such large scales and also so heartbreaking to individual lives.

I've been living in the world of what if. What if past relationships didn't bruise and challenge and destroy us a little? What if we felt free and open to letting love in, despite...? What if family baggage didn't haunt us and past failures didn't follow us? What if the timing was always right? What if everything could just work out for once? Does the world actually operate like that? What if it did?

I've been wondering, also, what it means to be ready. She and I chatted this morning and she said I'm sorry I came to your door bearing gifts and a big maybe. I should have left the gifts at home and met you on the sidewalk.

Is that the simple truth of the matter? Timing and what we bring are everything? I am wondering if things that don't work out are simply a matter of one or both of the individuals not being ready.

All I know is, today I awoke in a soul-crushingly sad world because of the tragedies beyond my own life. And I felt that today would have been a really nice day to have had someone beautiful, and warm, and real, and lovely to curl up next to and say Honey, the world can be a terrible place, I'm grateful for this simple moment together.

But since, for now at least, that reality isn't available to me, I spent the day remembering and enjoying my own company. I cried alone about the tragic events on the east coast, but I also laughed alone at small acknowledgments of kindness and beauty that too exist. I walked through my house and took note of all the pieces of a life that come together to create a deeply nourishing existence. I've done this single thing well for a long time, and just because I got a brief taste of what is possible, it doesn't mean I can't enjoy what I already had.

And I suppose, the nice part about not getting too used to what things are becoming, is that then it is easier to go back to the way things were.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kitchen Renovation: Moving Along

Those dusty, dirty, century-old floors have new life. I couldn't believe my eyes this morning:

Unfortunately, as you can see in the last photo, there is a little water damage area that I am not pleased with (character? charm?) and even if I could live with it, my designer/friend says she cannot and she plans to call my contractor tomorrow and yell at him for leaving it like this and not finding a good solution. Gulp. Today has been a day of yelling/talking sternly at various people involved with doing the work on my kitchen, and I'm not all that fond of days like this. It's sad to learn that sometimes being harsh is what has to happen to get things done. People will walk all over you if you don't stand up for yourself. Isn't that sad?

So here's another cool photo of the new ceiling (pre-paint). I cannot wait for the awesome vintage-inspired lights to go in! Stay tuned.

And finally some photos that simply show the sheetrock up, the taping and some primer done. Once this happened I really got a sense of the feeling/layout of the space. 

Cabinets arrived today -my downstairs is full of 24 boxes, therefore my downstairs does not currently have room to move around in. Once those start going in tomorrow, it's really going to start to feel like a kitchen again.

My goal is to cook a meal in it by my 29th birthday, which gives me approximately four weeks.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pop Song Truthiness

The weekly* question comes via Robyn's brilliant Call Your Girlfriend. Go ahead, Watch it.

So, I'm wondering, is it true: Is the only way a person's heart will mend, is by learning to love again?

This week I am asking myself: do we heal on our own, through our own, solitary process or through the possibility of connections with other people, the headfirst plunge into "here we go again"?


(*which seems to imply there have been other questions of the week. let's just say I'm trying something new, inspired.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

sunday evening poetry

A rediscovered Billy Collins poem. Every great weekend should end with a beautiful poem, right?

This Much I do Remember 

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.