how steadfast are your branches

I decided to put the tree up a bit early this year so Miss L could enjoy it before she went to spend a few days with her dad for Thanksgiving. Although I had considered getting a real tree, the logistics of it seemed a bit overwhelming to accomplish single-handedly, so I brought up the good ol’ prewired tree from the basement (in sections because that sucker is HEAVY). It all fit together and although a few of the sections didn’t light up, most of it looks pretty good. I’m not entirely sure how to trouble shoot the light sections that aren’t lighting. I think there are entire books written and tools developed to test Christmas lights and I have very little interest in getting this detail oriented and anyway, if you squint, the whole thing looks good.

Every ornament we have on our tree is something pretty special to us. Maybe someday I will have a lovely immaculate home and do a themed Christmas tree but for now the Miss Piggy ornament I’ve had since childhood is just fine, rubbing shoulders with Miss L’s popsicle stick reindeer.

Emmett, faux Bengal that he is, was extremely interested in every step of the proceedings and had to thoroughly immerse himself.

11.2014 xmas tree 3

Caught mid-meow.


11.2014 xmas tree 2

11.2014 xmas tree 1

It looks peaceful, but immediately after this picture was taken, Emmett knocked the lamp over and Miss L almost pitched into the tree.

We turned on the radio station that has been playing nonstop Christmas music since Halloween and I sang along. Typically I’m not a huge fan of this radio station as I find Christmas carols somewhat grating, except for the old mellifluous religious ones, but I thought Miss L might enjoy it. She did at first, and then, when ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ came around for the second time in an hour, she said tactfully, “Do you think we can turn that off?….”

I had to laugh, girl after mom’s heart.


Great Times.

When you have a blog, even a small, not-widely-read blog like mine, you have to be cognizant of privacy and common sense. I try not to exploit Miss L by smearing her face or stories all over the blog every day, for example, although it’s tough to keep her off altogether simply because she’s the biggest and most important part of my life. Most of my close personal friendships and relationships are similarly left unplumbed, because the relationships are more important to me than the writing material they might represent.

And, of course, work. No one at my workplace knows about my blog and I prefer to keep it that way, so I don’t blog much about my job or my colleagues. Of course, this leaves a LOT of my daily life unblogged, which is okay. I get by.

As usual, I point out my basic rules in order as preface to an exception post.

Widget Central* has employed me gainfully since 2002 and I really love it. It isn’t my passion, but my job and my coworkers have been the most consistent, stable part of my life for 12 years over 2 continents. Every bit of energy and joy I’ve put into my job has come back to me threefold in the form of financial independence and amazing, supportive friends, a second family. Not everyone can say this about the place where they make their living, and I am utterly, completely grateful.

Two of my great friends at Widget Central are currently interviewing candidates for an entry level position in their department and their stories are gratifyingly hilarious. MC Granola put the kaibosh on a football player from a major university because, as he said witheringly, “That dude is six foot seven. I’m going to tell him to do my data entry? MAYBE NO.”

The other day they pulled a resume out of the pile. At the bottom, the kid’s extracurriculars read as follows: “Football. Soccer. Sports. Family. Great Times.” For some reason, everyone except MC Granola thought this was the funniest thing they’d ever read and they just HAD to bring Great Times in for an interview, which MC Granola declined to attend. “I was right,” he told me. “That kid showed up in a polo shirt and the first question he asked was what his hours were going to be.” Someone, it seems, needs to school Great Times in the do’s and don’ts of interviewing.

I was reminded how much I love my job by today’s Thanksgiving potluck, sponsored by the Engineering Department. This potluck is hands down the absolute best work-sponsored event I’ve ever attended. The company provides the ham and the turkey and the engineers, once they are vigilantly discouraged from signing up to bring soda, cutlery, napkins, or rolls (we mark those easy categories off) do a thorough job of putting the remainder of the menu on a matrix and formulating grim assignments. There is nothing that makes me laugh harder than hearing them confer over the sign-up sheet when they think no one is listening. “Okay. We have two salads – a broccoli salad and a green salad. Clearly no one is going to eat THOSE. Who can do one of those sweet potato things? Dale? Okay. Now, it’s gotta have the little marshmallows cooked into it.” Dale: (offended) I KNOW! MY GOSH!! WHO WOULD BRING A SWEET POTATO THING WITHOUT THE LITTLE MARSHMALLOWS?!” “Okay, okay. Now. What else? Anyone up for something au gratin??”

We end up, perhaps not surprisingly, with an entire table of traditional American Thanksgiving items, and another table, which is inevitably the most popular, of gourmet Indian cuisine, from the other well-represented group amongst the engineers, and most people will say, as they are standing in line, confidingly, “Don’t waste your time on the turkey. You’ll get that next week. THE BUTTER CHICKEN IS WHERE IT’S AT, MAN.”

JD is a small, unassuming engineer who wears an Indiana Jones hat and drives a battered black van, which has earned him some suspicious glances from the other Widget Central employees who automatically associate ‘van’ with ‘creeper’. However, JD’s double life is not as a perp, it’s as a wedding singer, and the van is essential for hauling his musical gear. At our Thanksgiving potluck, he sets up his keyboard and regales us with tunes. It is one of the happiest days of the year, to sit and stuff oneself with samosas and pecan pie, and see a table loaded with the previously unforeseen talents of the Engineering Department. Who knew that T-Mac could whip up that Tupperware of homemade whipped cream? (“That’s not butter?” “No, Dale, not butter.”) Who knew that Dale himself could make a ciabatta that could make you cry? Who knew that JD could sing with an Irish lilt in a traditional ballad and then smoothly shift gears, with the appropriate snappy patter, into “Rambling Man”? I could sit there all day eating and listening, and looking around at my Widget Central colleagues and feeling like these really are Great Times.


“If clouds are blocking the sun, there will always be a silver lining that reminds me to keep on trying.” ― Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

11.2014 whiteout

**warning – this post is full of utter misery and feeling-sorry-for-myselfedness. you’ve been warned.**

For the past year and a half, I have tried to focus on the silver linings, and choose good cheer and optimism over being glum, but some days are just plain bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. For example, yesterday.

Yesterday, Miss L woke up sad before she was even out of bed, still all warm and cuddly and sleepy and – sad. Cheerios cheered her up, as did her new fur hat that makes her look like a teddy bear, but when it came time to drop her off at pre-care, she just didn’t want me to leave. And there were tears, and there was her visible struggle to be brave, which is a terrible thing for me to witness, watching her draw her six-year-old self up and face things when I wish I could just take her home and put her back into pajamas and save her from having to face anything. Then there was me crying in the car on the way to work and being late.

My boss told me that I have to give a presentation to the same committee that saw me fail horribly a couple of months ago, and although I didn’t even twitch, just stoically said, ‘No worries’, on the inside I was stamping my foot and screaming “WHAT?!!” I just wonder what the fucking point is. I know everybody has to do things that they hate and fail at and despise every day of their lives but DAMN. You would think blatant, visible failures would at least have the silver lining of not having to do it AGAIN but I guess the universe has a little more humiliation and degradation to expose me to, so I will turn the other cheek, dress up, and get my ass kicked by my own self YET AGAIN.

Yesterday, my stomach felt a little unsettled before lunch but I thought it was just the lingering aftereffects of an emotional morning, so I went and tried to work out anyway. I gave up running after a pathetic mile and got on the elliptical with a roiling stomach and my friend came in and got on the same treadmill and busted out many miles at a sprint pace with no visible strain and I wondered how I can possibly call myself a runner.

By 4.00 I was full on nauseous and had my space heater on full blast, but still found myself shivering. Outside my office window, the snow scoured the bare lot and the polar vortex came down inexorably, and there was a whiteout on the drive home. I got home, and after having only juice and an apple all day, I dumped some Cheerios and toast into my protesting stomach and climbed into the hottest bath I could stand.

My bathroom is sunny and is the home for most of my houseplants, partly because of its exposure and partly because it has a door I can close to keep Emmett and Sarge out. This weekend, one of them got into the bathroom and chewed up one of my plants and barfed it back up and made an enormous mess; I’d blamed Miss L for leaving the door ajar. (“WHAT!!” -Miss L. “You must have, the boys can’t open the door themselves!” – Me. “Sarge can open the door!!” – Miss L. “That’s ridiculous.” – Me.) Well, as I shivered in my bath Sarge meowed violently at me from the hallway, and then proceeded to open the bathroom door and saunter in. (“WHAT!!” – Me.) This is a bad thing, Sarge figuring out doorknobs.

I was in bed by 6.30, freezing and sweating, and by 8.00 the Cheerios and toast had come back up (sorry, graphic, but true.) Emmett had knocked another picture off the wall so I’d locked the cats out of the bedroom and Sarge opened the door at 10 and brought up a section of the rubber basement flooring to gnaw on contentedly. I had fever dreams of being in Paris and then getting ready to run a race somewhere wind-torn and barren, and not wanting to see someone that I knew would be there; I woke up soaked in sweat but finally warm.

I suppose the silver lining is that I am home today and after a mostly liquid diet, broth and ginger tea, I was able to brush my teeth, which is a huge improvement, and it looks as though I will finish Tana French’s “The Secret Place” today as well, which has been a really great book. (I love Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad.) And maybe tomorrow will be better. No, tomorrow will definitely be better.

11.2014 duck stream


chaos, havoc, and the first snow.

11.2014 me n em

I’ve had cats in my life ever since I can remember, starting with Blackie, who died, I think, and followed by Bunsy, Abigail, Collier, Maggie, Salem, and, now, Emmett and Sarge. Every single one of these cats was weird. I don’t know now whether all cats are weird in their own ways, or if we just tend to get the weird ones. But Abigail lived in two rooms for most of her life, and Collier ate the string from those old plastic drawstring shopping bags. Bunsy tried to steal an entire Thanksgiving turkey and only liked my father. Salem had a nervous stomach and couldn’t bring herself to poop in the litterbox. Maggie was just a good true cat, and when she passed, Emmett and Sarge (aka the Chaos and Havoc twins) came into our lives.

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Emmett is a Very Bad Cat.

He is a thin, spotted, Bengalish kind of cat, with a freckled face and muddy colored eyes, and an enormous plaintive yowl that doesn’t match his slender frame. He is prone to bursting out any open door and making runs for it, into the garage to hide under my Camry or onto the front porch or garden. Luckily, he doesn’t entirely know what to do once he gets where he is going, and tends to stop and MRRROWWWWW his confused triumph, allowing me to snatch him back up. He jumps on people’s shoulders (including a hapless appraiser visiting the house) and climbs curtains and chews plants and finds his way onto narrow ledges and the tops of open doors. He is also charming and affectionate and a lap cat and just wants to be close to people, and I love him enormously which allows me to tolerate his most recent fascination with pictures hanging on the walls. If he stands on his hind legs, he can push framed pictures hanging on my stairway and make them swing and sway, rattling them against the walls at all times of the night. For a long time I laid awake in bed cursing silently because I was NOT going to chase him around the house (he finds this very merry) at three AM and I was NOT going to be reduced to taking MY PICTURES off the walls because of a SMALL EVIL CAT.

Yeah, so, I took the pictures off the walls.

11.2014 sarge superman

Sarge is a big, fluffy, mellow dude with some unfortunate habits as well. He is a fetcher cat, so his passionate love is little fur mouties (mice) that he chases around the house when thrown, and brings back to be thrown again. He can do this all day long. I wish he WOULD do this all day long, because the alternative is him feeding his slightly addictive chewing behaviors. Once he shredded up all of the flip flops in the house, he started in on the rubber floor mats under the treadmill and weight bench in the basement. I’m afraid his stomach and intestines are full of noxious chewed rubber, although from the number of times I hear Miss L shriek from the basement “MOMMY I SEE BARF” he fortunately doesn’t seem to be able to digest it.

They look sweet in this little kitten picture, don’t they. This was the second day they came to live with us, almost a year ago. The thing I remember most about this picture is that Emmett is quite damp because he had just taken a leap into Miss L’s bath and then freaked out and zoomed around the house spraying water.




This week saw the first snow. Nothing stuck, but once again, the view from my office window was grey, scudding clouds and blowing snow. It feels like the majority of my life in that office is spent looking at that same weather, with just tiny fleeting intervals of other landscapes, summer blues and greens and autumn golds. So my outside work is done. Last weekend, Miss L and I gathered up the last of the leaves, repaired the compost bin and winterized it with layers of newspapers and mulched leaves. We trimmed back most of the garden beds and moved the woodpile from the old spot in the back corner of the yard to the new steel log rack on the back patio, two steps from the back door. She was a grand helper and helped me with birdfeeders and raking and gathering. I spent an anxious day calling snowplow companies and finding most of them booked up, and had just resigned myself to a winter of do-it-myself snowblowing when one company called me back. So let it snow.

11.2014 first snow


Because when it’s one of the last sunny, mild days before predicted snow later in the week, and you have an hour before your next meeting, you just have to slip out to a Coney Island, sit at the counter, enjoy a great salad, and listen to the chatter around you.


in dreams begin responsibilities

I dreamed the other night that I was standing on a beach up north with someone I don’t know very well. It was a winter beach, cold wet packed sand, waves whipped to white foam under a slate grey sky. We stood in watchful silence and then I turned, and as far as the eye could see along the horizon, a string of boats, freighters and trawlers and steamers, flowed slowly but inexorably into the harbor.

“There must be a storm,” I called to my companion over the rising wind. “They are all coming into the harbor, where it’s safe.”

Caught up in the blur of a month of thankfulness, and finally breaking down to listen to ‘Eat Pray Love’ on my commutes, mixed with a dose of full moon magic, and a dream about boats in a harbor that I just can’t shake, I have started to ponder the concepts of prayer and manifestation. I agree with many of the concepts of spirituality expressed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, and I also feel that, like her, I suffered catastrophic destruction of relationships that forced me to face certain concepts.

I was forced to face my own weaknesses, faults, and failures. I am not the best at maintaining personal relationships, I know this. I struggle to keep up friendships and to show people that I love just how much I love them.

It forced me to accept that people will break your heart in the most crushing ways, and disappoint you time and time again; and that people will show you transformational kindness and staunch support, love and joy, in equal yet entirely unpredictable measures. There will be those who break you, and those who stand by you holding you up, and those who do both. Most times, I didn’t accurately predict who would be whom. And I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult for me to accept help when it was offered.

I had to accept my starting point, and what a paltry, indefensible position it was. No help for it;  I had to build, brick by brick, from there, and the only way to do that was from a place of grace, and forgiveness, for my own failings and for the hurt, disappointment, and abandonment I felt inflicted on me by others. I had to put everything behind me to move forward, and by and large, I feel I’ve done that. I am still a work in progress at forgiving and letting the past be the past, but I know the critical importance of it, and I work on it every day.

I had to forgive myself, too.

It forced me to accept that during all of the events of the past several years, I was not alone, and that although I chose the hardest, most exhausting paths to climb, there was a pattern to the events of my life, and grace, and that grace came from some other, higher source than my own limited self. Every time I fell down and said, I can’t get up, something forced me up. Though heavily we bled, still on we crawled. (Coldplay)

Like Gilbert, I have viewed prayer with skepticism. Actually, until the last year or so, I’ve been so uneasy with the concept of personal happiness that I actually felt more comfortable when I was unhappy, because then I didn’t have to fear the other shoe was about to drop. I suppose, for some reason, I never felt that I had earned happiness, peace, and contentment. When you don’t believe you deserve things, you don’t pray for them, and also, like Gilbert, I felt that praying for things was incredibly inappropriate. Why would God (whatever your concept of God is) care what I wanted, or needed, in the grand scheme of the universe? How can you look at the utter chaos and tragedy, the mass destruction constantly occurring on unthinkable scales throughout the world, and feel like God can care about my personal sadness, my needs?

I don’t have the answer to those questions.

But one thought resonates with me. It is David Lynchian, from reading one of his books on Transcendental Meditation. He is a bit cagey about a lot of the elements of TM, likely because it’s a “pay for play” program, but he reiterates time and again that meditation (prayer, we can call it) is not just a selfish endeavor. If we are to be viewed as a whole entity, if even one small dust mote in that entirety is happy, and at peace, it can spread, it can vibrate like a tuning fork. I think Madeline L’Engle writes about this too, sort of, in her Wrinkle in Time trilogy – the little farandolae who choose to sing with the universe rather than swirl ragefully, the tiny star that glows against the creeping darkness engulfing a planet.

I know these are grandiose concepts to justify prayer, and I know it’s likely melodramatic, but this is the way that I’m slowly becoming a bit more comfortable with the idea of a conversation with my God, and the possibility that perhaps it is okay for me to pray. To start, though, I’ve tried to approach this through the concept of work on myself, and manifestation. I don’t want to ask for things – I don’t want to ask God to bring me someone to love, or material fulfillment, or ultimate wisdom. I don’t even want to ask for things to be easier. I just want to have clarity about what I’m working towards, to view the future as an unknowable work in progress with nothing to fear, rather than a dreary unfolding of days spent alone, buying cat food and wine. I want to be happy in the present moment, be happy with what I have and the person that I am. Honestly, until I can accomplish those things, until I can dream my own life, I don’t know that there’s any point in me asking for anything else or having anything or anyone new in my life. I’ll just be repeating the same old patterns. So maybe that’s my prayer these days, maybe that’s my first step.

And you know, it seems to be working. I am much happier than I’ve been in years.

how to survive november in the northern hemisphere

With a fire, and bread dough rising.

11.2014 fire

I am practicing my fire-building skills, but I think I am going to need more wood for the winter. I also need to start thinking about a snow removal company. My badass homesteading skills do not extend to snowblowers.

It is sleeting outside, and there is another polar vortex (the first of the season! aww) bearing down on us early next week. I have chili in the crockpot. I should have been doing a Turkey Trot today but the time change, and the hours of darkness, have diminished my mojo. Today, all I want to do is hang out by the fire, make things, and watch the play of weather outside of the den windows.

I’m trying a simple five-ingredient French bread recipe, to cautiously dip my toe back into breadmaking. I love the idea of homemade bread but I’ve never been successful at it. I’ve tried a starter, but my sourdough is never sour. Finally I gave up, until I heard this on NPR a few weeks ago. I waitlisted the book at the library, but it fired up my desire to bake, so we’ll see how it goes.

Sarge is helping relax today. We wish you all a happy, relaxing Saturday to sharpen your saw, as they say at Miss L’s school. xo

11.2014 sarge