4.11.2014

LIFE WITH MY CAMERA


Heads up! Essay in the New York Times Travel section on having a camera, which happened thanks to this blog--and your enthusiasm and encouragement. With thanks!

Pictures here display my moss/wood/rock obsession....and after the soggy spring we've had, there's plenty of enchantment around.


3.07.2014

THIS I WEAR BLOG


It is fun for me to meet people producing wonderful blogs. I had lunch with some of the Eileen Fisher crew recently; they are always interested in who is doing good work in the world, and Moms Clean Air Force is focusing lots of time not only on climate change, but on toxic chemical reform. (Sign our petition for reform now; a bill is working its way through Congress.) As we went around the table introducing ourselves, describing a bit of our journeys, Rebecca Magee talked about a blog she started years ago, called This I Wear.

Intrigued by how blogs give us all a chance to run down any rabbit hole that catches our attention--without having to ask a slowpoke editor for permission--I started exploring. (Really, this should be the golden age of magazines; instead, too many editors are stuck. I especially noticed this as I pored over shelter magazines and their websites during my renovation. But that's another story.)  This I Wear is charming, it has a sweet tone and carefully considered posts. (And, by the way, college grads, please note: it led Magee into her job at Eileen Fisher.)

This I Wear is about the soul of clothing, and the bond of attachment we form with so many of the things we buy--and what that says about us. Magee's got a post up now on a Japanese technique of embroidery, called Sashiko, begun as a way to reinforce weak spots in clothing (those pesky knees, toes and elbows). Kinship: it reminded me of my mending techniques.

One of the things I love about This I Wear is Magee's fascination with her mother's closet. She writes about Liberty scarves, for instance, and how excited she was to find one in NYC; it brought back loving memories of her mother's collection. The other theme in her writing has to do with cherishing old things, and how clothes just get better with time. Some of my friends were, um, gently scandalized that I wasn't buying a new dress for my son's wedding. But I had an outfit that I love--one I wore so often in magazine days that my publisher told me to change clothes, as there were too many photographs during the year of me wearing the same outfits.  My silver-embroidered coat and skirt were perfect for the grand occasion--one of the most important in my life--they were comfortable and glittering, a neat combination, and I wanted to imbue them with wedding bliss.

How easy it is these days to have a "Just Throw It Away" attitude about our stuff. When you can buy fabulous wool socks at Century 21 for a couple of dollars--why bother to darn them? But then....those socks might last a month before your toes start poking through, or the heel is threadbare. Far better to buy fewer things of higher quality, things that will last a lifetime. Or at least through a wedding or two. 

3.05.2014

WHAT'S IN A BABY NAME?

Creeping back to Slow Love Life...just beginning to dig out from under musty cardboard boxes that have spent years in storage. Much to report, eventually, on the pain and joy of settling into a new life. I finally admit that I do not have eight arms or two brains or V8 horsepower and can only do so much....

But meantime: this amazingly fun and highly distracting link to a history of baby names in the US over time, sent to me by my pal Shaun. Naturally, the first thing I did was plug mine into the Search tool. I was stunned to learn that there were 7 Dominiques in the US when I was named. No doubt they all had French mothers. I loathed my name when I was a child; it was too different and exceedingly difficult to spell. And worse, my mother had pinned a note to the smock I was forced to wear over my regular clothes (embroidered with my name in script of course) saying: "She has no nick name. Please use her full name."

To this day, my father has never once pronounced my name correctly, saying it in the masculine form. Dominick. Of course, when I was a kid, everyone said about my name, isn't that a boy's name? He wanted to name me Danielle, so he could call me Danny. My mother refused.  I used to think he could not pronounce Dominique correctly because he had wanted a boy child, then I thought, he simply cannot speak French, and then I decided, he will not speak French, he refuses: language is a way to mark a separation, a dividing line.

Any of you who have grown up in a two-language household will recognize some of the dysfunction that can set in. My mother always spoke French to me around other people who did not speak French--she still does--it was a way of throwing a magic circle of separation around us, a way of keeping us apart, and keeping me to her. When she took a nasty fall last year, out like a light, unconscious for quite a while, Theo and I got to the emergency room just as the ambulance was pulling up with her on the stretcher. I found myself babbling in French to her, calling her, trying to wake her up and focus her on where she was. French was what she heard. (She is better, now, sort of.) French was what I learned way before English; my toddler babble was an incomprehensible mix of the two, or so I am told by older Kentucky cousins who had a hard time figuring out what to make of it all.

I am still trying to figure out what to make of it all.

Perhaps because my parents are becoming so frail, and because I am once again setting up a new home, and because my son and his beloved wife are also setting up a new home, at the beginning of this miraculous journey called love....much about childhood, and about the twists and turns we take, is on my mind. My friend Cynthia says now that life is a river, and we are simply floating down on the water, we don't know what is ahead or around the bend. I always wanted to steer, to know where we were going, to decide where to land. But when I look at the landscape around me now, I realize I had no idea, and no control. In fact. I could never have predicted where I am living now, or what I spend my days doing as work--and yet, from the moment I first stepped out of the subway into this neighborhood, I recognized home, and from the moment I began to give voice to concerns about our climate, I recognized a calling.

 What's in a name? Everything--the seed, the germ, of a new life, given to us by those who bring us into this world, with all their hopes and expectations. And really, not much at all; a name is ours to fill as we choose, if we can ever get an oar into those currents deep enough to get somewhere....

Have fun with this, waste some time pondering your company over the years, and see what kinds of meditations arise on being....your name here

1.09.2014

BLUE NORTHERS, WARM HEARTS

Amazing how quickly, and how fiercely, we latch on to words to give meaning to what befalls us. Polar vortex. A rough, shaggy beast left the North Pole and descended so rapidly upon us, bringing with it a cold so severe after a day of mild winter weather, that we were stunned into paralysis. The polar vortex: the person at a party who violates boundaries; the woman texting while driving on the highway, veering across three lanes of traffic.

My bedroom windows began weeping with condensation; after sopping up water with a couple of towels even I, in a swoon of homemaking, realized this was not normal window behavior. "Polar vortex," said the super. (A helpful man who lives here! If only he were helpful!) Classic New York: Fuggedabout it.

I much preferred the term, Blue Norther. Partly, that's political: we are going to have to get used to a climate in which there are no boundaries to be violated--because our weather is getting more extreme, more unreliable, across the planet. And we are going to have to stop behaving like the careless text-er, thinking only of ourselves. We're in this together; the way we act individually has enormous consequence collectively.

But really, there's poetry in a Blue Norther. I'm the first person to go directly to an emotional analogue, so I began to meditate on how a Blue Norther slams the heart unexpectedly--a severe shock, an unexpected betrayal that slams you up against the wall, you retreat, huddling into whatever warmth you can find until it passes, and then you heal. We all know Blue Northers.

Meantime I am as far from being in the grips of a Blue Norther as I can get. My heart is spilling over, literally skipping beats, so that I have to sit down and collect myself, hold my hand over my heart to keep it from leaping out of my chest, and let the joy quietly swaddle me. I'm almost afraid to feel such profound joy--if you have a superstitious bone in your body, or an entire skeleton held together with ligaments of superstition, you're bound to think, oh dear, now something terrible will happen. Get away, polar vortex, swooping in from a place of fear, freezing the heart.

My son gets married soon: we are in countdown, and family is arriving from distant parts. He is entering a stage of life I didn't think I would live to see. I can shed the anxiety I had--so deeply buried I had forgotten it was there, but it was, all along--that our divorce might have irreparably damaged, if not broken, his ability to make a life-long commitment to love. Then, how odd it is to still feel fifteen years old, in my soul, and to see my son behaving in an altogether much more grown-up manner. And to see one's child blissful? His joy is a solar vortex, warm, cheery, open and sweet, lassoed across my path.

I am finally in my apartment, unpacking boxes, thinking, feet first. Next time I leave this place it'll be feet first. I'm also thinking, how on earth did I accumulate all this stuff? And I'm thinking, furthermore, I need never buy another: tea towel, candle, wineglass, piece of china, chair, photograph, or book. But none of that was ever about need, was it? Desire sometimes feels like need.

And I'm getting to know an entirely new part of this gorgeous city. Jane asked, in the last comment section, where can I get a tea cake? I wondered if she wanted something sweet? Many of you know that I am directly descended from Winnie-the-Pooh, up to and including a penchant for half-hearted stoutness exercises, so I wander the streets trying to pick up the scent of honey. That, and a Spinning Chicken (okay, rotisserie) are all I need to make a feast. I must locate the tea cakes that are to my liking--not too sweet, but sweet enough. For the tea cake you drink, pu'erh, go to In Pursuit of Tea, where you will find such beauties as Moon Cake and Blessed Forever Banzhai Bingcha.

No doubt a polar vortex will lurch into our lives once again. No doubt a Blue Norther will sweep through the sky, shoving us up against the wall. For now, though, I report from a milder climate. And how delicious it is to feel Blessed Forever.

12.28.2013

READING THE TEA LEAVES




Last weekend I was stricken with the cold from hell, the one that seems to be sweeping across the country. I shivered with fever, every bone ached and even my brain was wracked with pain until finally, mercifully, my body slipped into a sleep so deep that I barely woke for 36 hours.  When I got sick the skies were dark with icy rain and snow; when I came to, drenched in sweat, fever breaking, Christmas was upon us and I was told that I had missed a spring day of 70-degree warmth.

And so the world rapidly cycles, in sickness and in health, with life and with death, through love and through loss. In my wrung-out lethargy I looked back over the year, and thought, it was a big year. My older son proposed marriage to his beloved; they will soon marry, and it gives me deep joy to see their bliss. My younger son will finish a course of studies and set out to…well, I was about to say, “find” his path. But we don’t find paths, do we? We carve them, into what seem like impenetrable terrains, never certain where exactly we are going; even when we are certain we are fooling ourselves. 

Babies were born to friends, friends were lost to illness. It was a big year. But every year is a big year. Every day is a big day. That is what we realize when we are older. That we are lucky enough—and that is all it is, plain dumb luck—to be here makes it a big day, a big year.

My family gathered in Rhode Island for the holidays. After days of illness I was able to stand upright without being dizzy, and I felt refreshed, as if the fever burned to ash something bitter I had not quite gotten done with, and needed to. Theo presented his brother and fiancee with a beautiful tea cake, a pu’erh, as a wedding gift. He explained, it gets better with age. Every year the couple is to have a tea ceremony to mark the occasion of their anniversary, and every year, like their marriage--we are certain of it--the tea will taste richer and deeper and yield up a bit more of its mystery.

Theo led the first ceremony, pouring water into a tiny pot, letting it brim over and pool in a deep bowl, and as we drank—and drinking tea, quietly, meditatively, is one of my favorite things to do—the sun broke through the sodden clouds that had cast a grey pallor on the day.

A flash of midday brilliance sparkled through the holly trees. If this were my usual cup of tea, I would have simply stared in wonder at the shifting light, the life, the pallor. Instead, I noticed the drama outside, and then turned my gaze back into the room.

I am here. Everything I love, and everything I need, is right here with me.  For a moment, I live in a charmed circle.  Luck gives us another day. Love makes it a holy day. May your new year brim.

12.16.2013

MOVING IN SOON



I'm calling this photo DK36. That's the name of the paint by Donald Kaufman that I have used in my living room; it changes all day with the northern light, sometimes more mauve or lavender, sometimes more grey. You get a hint of that in this picture, along with ladders and plastic and drop cloths, all reflected in the glass as I shoot out the window.

Next week, next week,  the contractor keeps saying. We will be done next week. I am bringing people in to clean up this weekend. He's been saying this since November 1. Next week and next week and next week, creeps in this petty pace from day to day....

Oddly, though this end game is madly frustrating, the delay has given me time to reflect on the process of making a new home at this stage of life. I could write a book on the subject. The uncertainty about whether or not I could pull this off, yet again. The bother, how many years left do I have, anyway? The exhaustion, in anticipation, of yet another project. The worry about picking colors, tiles, floors, lighting. The consideration of a lifetime of habits of living; which did I want to stop? Which can I never end?

And the pleasure, the profound pleasure, of setting out on this creative adventure. Every time the rising tides of climate change felt too depressing to contemplate, I could glance at the rising pile of tiles I was considering. A welcome reprieve.

But for now: I love my new building. I feel as if I am moving into a grand dormitory. I love the smells coming out of neighbors' kitchens, curry, roast chicken; strangely intimate, to know what strangers will be having for dinner. And I love the sounds, too: string trios and horns and operatic voices. And I love the neighborhood. I'm discovering an entirely unknown-to-me part of New York; thanks to an invitation from the marvelous writers Laura Jacobs and Jim Wolcott, I stepped off the subway one day two summers ago, and feel in love with Washington Heights. The feel of an older Broadway, the scale of lower buildings with the kind of fanciful ornamentation that architects today ignore. The breezes coming off the Hudson; the proximity, an easy walk, to the Cloisters, one of my favorite New York landmarks.

And the absolutely grounding joy of my own home, once again, to do with what I please.

Next week, next week. I wander from room to room, after the electricians and painters and plumbers have gone home (or not arrived), peeking under the plastic, gazing out the windows, imagining where my Chinese table will go, or how I will get rid of even more books once I've filled every new bookcase (in the dining room, bedrooms, kitchen). I cannot wait to unpack. And settle down. To live with my decorating decisions--is that kitchen floor a little too unusual? Was that entry color too bold? I will see what was a mistake, what was a triumph. And I will love it all. I've been dreaming my way home for a long time now.




12.14.2013

CHAI PEANUT BUTTER



Yes. You read that right. In my old Harlem neighborhood (old as of last week), I used to visit a sidewalk food stand (now known as a "pop-up store") selling gourmet items. Riley-Land is run by gracious, enthusiastic people who seriously love unusual flavor combinations, as do I. They're building up their audience so they can open a bricks-and-mortar store. It is a rare pleasure to find such high quality, distinctive treats.

What first caught my eye were some beautiful wood cutting boards and bamboo linen napkins. But I don't need any more of those. Not yet. On closer inspection, a jar of Chai Peanut Butter proved irresistible--handmade in Durham, North Carolina. Absolutely delicious. I happen to love peanut butter on graham crackers. (Nabisco being the only graham that doesn't have a cardboard aftertaste--at least so far, until Riley-Land finds someone to reinvent that staple of my so-called diet.)

It is snowing out today in New York City. Riley-Land company delivers by Fed Ex anywhere. You won't be disappointed, I promise. Check out their blog, too, for instant gratification, featuring a terrific recipe for Roasted Almond Thumbprint Cookies. If only my own bricks-and-mortar kitchen were finished.