Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Have A View of Life

I was strident yesterday. Shrill, as they say of women having an opinion. Make no mistake, I still stand for Death to The Suburbs, but today I am sweetly floral. I'm wearing my hair optimistically down. Flower power. Make love, not war. Peace, brothers.

It's because of that book I was telling you about, A Pattern Language. The one that caused me to rant yesterday, has caused me to rejoice today. Isn't what what good non-fiction is for?

In the section titled "Flexible Office Space" (crucial for freelancers and artists) it says that a room in which one works should have two windows. Check. Mine does. Your workspace should not face a wall, but rather look out onto a view of life. How poetic is that? Mine was facing a wall. I erroneously thought it helped me focus to have nothing to see. Move along, thought process, nothing to see here.

With Husb.'s help, (ignoring Husb.'s mutterings of "What next?" "Will you ever be satisfied?") I heaved the desk around so that the view from my captain's chair behind the keyboard is out the window. Onto the garden. There my fall-blooming Montauk daisies are blooming.

Truth be told, it was immediately calming and inspiriting. There were bees busy in the flowers. "Thank you, pool boy," I said to Husb., "That will be all. For today."

Monday, September 29, 2014


I've been reading A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander.  Like Alice in Wonderland being faced with Drink me, I say to you, Read this.

This is a mighty must-have-doorstopper for anyone interested in New Urbanism and the vocabulary of spaces that you actually want to live in.

Spaces that feel humane. Not like the above. Or where I live, in Owings Mills.

Though the city fathers say Owings Mills is going to have a renaissance with the new Wegmans coming in, and will be modeled after Hunt Valley where the other Baltimore County Wegmans is, I say, to have a renaissance you need to do more than recreate a place that is so creepy and Valley of The Dolls to me, there is no there there. I apologize if Hunt Valley is your thing. No I don't.

To be a destination and a community you need street life. You need sidewalks. Trees. Hubs, not rectangles. Buildings with windows. Sidewalk cafes. Circulation. Multi-use. Window boxes. Not more big box stores. Of course I am excited about Wegmans selection of fresh fish.

But this price is too high. These suburban blandscapes suck your soul. Do you think I am being too dramatic? Too hysteric? I haven't even stretched my legs.

I wish I were half as articulate as James Howard Kunstler in his TED talk, "The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs" who put it simply, "these habitats induce anxiety."

"One has to imagine that the architects of these places got together and said, 'Fuck it.'"

Friday, September 26, 2014


I like difficult things. Especially if -- at the end -- there is the possibility of a sweet reward as there is in the case of foraging for chestnuts or marrons if you're French, as I am on my mother's side way back to Alsace-Lorraine.

Look at those spines. Gosh, they are spiny! But a husk in a defensive crouch is no match for me and my tool use, which goes back farther than France.

I have blood on my hands. The things poked me up a bunch.  But I have skin the thickness of a rhino; I am a freelance writer. I deal with rejection every single day if I am doing my job well.  Delicately peeling chestnuts. 

Sure, there were worms in some of them. Yes, some kernels were shriveled. Certainly, the dog rolled in deer poop as I walked, gleaning, among the fallen nuts that were as shiny reddish-brown as the coat of a fast horse.

Worms? Poop? Form change? Please.  I'm middle aged, honey. There's not much I can't clean, or scrape off, and return to the sauce pot, and sweeten, and stir, and place into individual frilled-paper candy cups and call marrons glac├ęs faciles

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Oh rapture oh joy oh potential major major waste of time, but such a diversion from working, I have discovered Pinterest. Heaven help you all.

In the interest of research, and procrastination, I decided to clock myself: How long would I spend poking through the interwebs looking for photographs of giant glowing mushrooms?

It was a timely question. I am interested in time management. For instance, why can I spend an hour watching David Duchovny in Californication, a show with absolutely no redeeming qualities, yet fail to make banana bread from the bananas that have gone from yellow spotted brown to you're a failure as a wife and mother Elizabeth Bastos?

I have been reading a book about how modern Americans spend our daily allotment of hours. It's called Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time. 

But apparently I do have the time.

I groundskept and fussed over my "board" titled "Bioluminescence" for three hours. My neck hurt, my shoulders started to burn, and still I kept on...

I said to the dog when she began to whine to go out, "Hold your horses, I'm busy. Mommy needs to pin just one or three more glowing Caribbean squid."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Playing House

From the time I graduated college, waaaay back in the way back machine,  I've lived in apartments. Rooms in apartments, actually, with cruddy, with falling-apart staircases, and porches attached in the loosest sense of the word, and roommates.

Twelve months ago we moved into our house on campus at a the private school where Husb. teaches. Okay, we still pay rent. But we pay rent on a house! A house! It's the biggest and most elegant place I've ever lived in my whole life. The basement is finished. Like, with carpet.

I want to give it a name like "Fallingwater" or "Hemmersly," after the cove, an inlet of the Miles River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where my grandparents had their farm, where they used to raise cows, and later, corn and soybeans, and my grandfather had stationery with "Hemmersly Farm" embossed and centered at the top that he kept in the pigeon holes of his giant tiger maple wood desk, and the paper smelled humid, salty, pulpy, and successful and made me think of everything I had to look forward to in becoming an adult.

Which brings me to interior design. I haven't the foggiest. I've been spending time in a completely new-to-me area of the Dewey Decimal system at the library -- Landscape and Design -- trying to figure it out. Using graph paper, and talking about "sight lines" and "softening walls."   I wonder, with the mustard-colored tiles in the upstairs bathroom, What Would Frank Lloyd Wright Do?

Living in apartments with roommates for 20 plus years I haven't thought much beyond who moved my cheese? and stop having sex so loudly! and not at all about how a room "reads." The "flow." The "mood."

I'm in Barbie's Dream House and I'm Barbie and Husb. is the Ken doll and I'm all like, "Dang, Ken, we need some throw pillows."

Friday, September 19, 2014


I woke up to the fact that my so-called "parenting" is mostly yelling when my son, 9, said,  "Stop with the yelling, I am trying to find my shoes!" my reaction was to yell, "What are you talking about? I DON'T YELL ALL THE TIME."

He goggled at me like I was a train wreck, "Case in point." "That's just so sad, Mom."

I can imagine him calling me to the stand for failure to communicate. I would be found guilty. I am slipshod. Scattered. Addled. Ungraceful. There is just so much homework to be reviewed, socks to be matched, toast to be buttered and then diagonally cut into triangles, and active listening to be done about the multi-functionality of Legos, that I rarely think not only of my words but of how I say them. I've lost sight of the Big Picture. I just micromanage and blast, "You call that flossing?!?" Then I wonder why no one wants to play checkers with me.

I feel humbled and made meek, like when the dog is bad, she slinks herself to her crate.

Inspiring, kind, helpful, necessary, true. Perhaps I should get these words as a tattoo. Perhaps I should ink them on the insides of my fingers motorcycle-club-style so when I spread them to wave goodbye to the kids in the morning as they go off to school and later, into the rest of their lives, I can read what I had in mind when I started the whole process of having a family.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Library Volunteer

The children's room of the Squirrel Hill Branch of the Pittsburgh Public Library had a tank of hamsters.

There were also bean-bag chairs upholstered in mustard corduroy and the whole place was furnished in indoor/outdoor carpet. The children's librarian was a paisley bell-bottom. This was the early '70s. "Upgrade" was not a word. Every book I took out was dusty and yet somehow also greasy. They were water-marked, liberally used, fingerprinted. On the book jacket flaps invariably some artistic soul had scribbled.

How I loved it all. It was funky library funk, evidence of people's ambitions, losses, hopes. When you took a book out a library it was obvious you were throwing your lot in with the main, kind of like being born, you were joining an experimental collective.

I recently started volunteering at my kids' elementary school library. My first thought on my first day: We've come a long way baby, this carpeting is clean. This place has none of the feeling of being at the bottom of an exhibit at the Pittsburgh Aqua Zoo.

If you love books as I love books, flagrantly, stupid-with-love-ed-ly, I highly recommend volunteering at your kid's library. The new picture-books will pass through your hands first and then into those of the next generation.