‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Monday, November 30, 2009

if only we could giftwrap kindness

I'm cross-posting because my life and my work overlap kind of a lot. I wrote this for Left Bank Gallery this morning:

This is the time of year when we are not sure if we're heroes or villains.

Everything around us says "buy! buy! buy!" and if we are honest, we are saying it, too. It's the time of year when we are best able to get these beautiful things off the shelves and into homes. And pay the mortgage. We are idealistic and pragmatic. So in some ways, we are part of the Holiday Consumer Machine. The "show your love with stuff" machine.

We like to think of ourselves as more than just a cog, though. Or rather, we are a cog in a different kind of machine.

Last year we proudly supported the Handmade Pledge. It echoed much of our own reasoning - and gave good incentive for shopping at places like Left Bank. What's not to like?

To some extent, we also supported the No Buy campaign. Which might be considered self-defeating.

We say "no" to commercial gifts that an advertising mechanism says we need to buy. We say "no" to the "more is more" mentality and the culture of waste. We say "no" to being sold a bill of goods that benefits no one in the long term.

That said, we have no desire to shut down the whole gift-giving culture. Not only would we be shooting ourselves in the foot, but we like getting and giving presents just as much as the next guy. Giving makes us feel good. Helping other people give makes us feel good, too. We love finding the perfect gift instead of the panic gift.

Intentionally or unintentionally, we are all voting with our dollars this season. When you buy from a store that supports American craft, you are giving your money to people all over the country who spend their lives making things just a little more human. The medium AND the message are completely different from what we're being sold commercially.

It's probably obvious where our votes are being cast. And judging from the fact that you've read this far, we're probably preaching to the choir. (You sing beautifully, btw.)

Let's work together this year to bring joy, generosity and good will back into the spotlight. It's been overshadowed by profit for too long.

Let's be heroes.


(I write the Left Bank Gallery blog.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

a deadline of one's own

Chris has been in overdrive lately. Which is good.

I have been left to take care of the kids and mother-in-law on my own. Which is bad.

It's not all bad, of course. We're in a groove mostly. But the kids had all last week off and oh my lord. It turns out I go a little nutty when I don't get a break.

So I stopped in for about 12 seconds to change my clothes between kid gigs today and in those 12 seconds I cataloged all the reasons I was going out of my mind and how not down with being a single mom I was. And then I went to a kid's birthday party before he could respond. Which may have worked out for him.

My phone rings while I'm at the party. It's Chris. He's gotten the kids a sitter so I can go to the gig he's working tonight. A gig I didn't know about.

That sitter may have saved his life.

So! I show up at the restaurant and the first 3 people I see are people I know and like and they all smile and wave and I think "OH NO! Did Chris plan a 'I'm sorry Susan's life is so stinky' flash mob?" Okay, there were only three people but Chris doesn't know how to use his phone very well.

It was not a flash moblette, as it turns out.

We had a nice evening gazing into each other's eyes and wondering what adults do on dates. He apologized for pushing me to the edge of sanity, saying "sometime you'll have a deadline and I'll be stuck with the kids for a week."

"Like when I go on my book tour?" I asked.


So now I have to write a book.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

visions of Sugarplum(s)

Sugarplum pushed a laundry basket out of her room, loaded with toys and games she had outgrown. "Can we send these to Santa," she asked, "so he can give extras to kids who don't have much?"

I told her we could take them right to Lower Cape Outreach or MassAppeal, and then kids who didn't have much could have them. It would be like we were being Santa's helpers. We would technically be elves.

I like being an elf.

Later that day....

Sugarplum: I know what I want for Christmas! I want an American Girl doll!

me: Really? And what will you do with your American Girl doll?

Sugarplum: I'll dress her and then change her clothes and....

(discarded doll appears in thought bubble over her head)

Sugarplum: Maybe I just want craft supplies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


My MiL wants to make Blancmange (cornstarch pudding) with wine jelly (orange jello made with wine) for dessert. I don't mean to be rude, but OH HORK.

She's not making us eat wine jello tomorrow, for which I am grateful. As a result, "gratitude for invisible friends" has been ousted from the top position of the thankful hit parade.

But you're a close second.

On Thanksgiving, be sure to save room for pie. And know that I dig you a whole lot.

"When Good Things Happen to Bad Turkeys"
marker, tempera and feathers on paper
Studley Dooright, American
(shown courtesy of the Dooright estate)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

second star to the right

This is a sun oven.

It's for "camping" which I think we all know is code for "Armageddon." I can't help but look at something like this and think how handy it would be in the End of Days. I'm not that skilled at cooking over an open fire, but I could do brownies in this.

I think we should get one, just to be on the safe side. Also a desalinization thingy, a biodiesel still and some solar chargers for our cell phones. We could store them next to the 5 gallon drums of rice and beans. We will be prepared. We will be ready. We will be....well honestly, we'll still be the gigantic sissies we are now and will probably have to hand over all our stuff to the first 12 year old hoodlum who comes our way when civilization hits the skids.

I don't know the first thing about the Rapture, but I suspect it was thought up by someone who was about to buy a sun oven. Someone who didn't like the idea of protecting it with a sawed-off shotgun. Someone who knew she probably wouldn't make it if she had to plant land mines around her chicken coop.

I didn't think about things like this before Sugarplum was born. Within months of her birth, however, I was figuring out how we'd survive once the grid crashed. I thought about how I'd have to break into the library to steal a book about cleaning fish. I made elaborate plans for moving into an underground house like Peter Pan. It all got very complicated.

It would be so much easier if we could just be sucked up into heaven like a Polly Pocket in a shop vac.

Assuming the kids haven't sent Polly Pocket to the "spa" and melted her in the sun oven.


I've added a couple of the comments left on my facebook page. They made me laugh.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

so la di da

I hesitate to mention this, lest you think less of us or are in the position of having us axed, but we had our Yacht Club interview today.

Bwahahahahaha! No really. We did.

No one has summed up the whole concept of us joining a yacht club better than Brighton. She said.... well, she didn't actually say anything because she was doing that laugh where no sound comes out and you wonder if you should call 911 because she appears unable to breathe.

We are clearly cut out for this yachting thing.

Chris showed up for the interview in jeans and a t-shirt. I was wearing a really cute shirt somewhere under my Old Navy fleece. We are a power couple from way back.

Note: whenever I try to type "power couple" I end up typing "poser couple." Hello, Freud.

Also, Chris started to park in the Commodore's parking spot because if there is a sign that says "this is not for you. Go away" that's where he'll go. I pitched a total "gah! you are going to get us kicked out before we've even had a chance to steal all the toilet paper" fit and he relented.

They're going to have a super-secret meeting before they decide whether we're in or not. We're hoping they do it soon because we're planning to get everyone on our Christmas list windbreakers with the club insignia. I don't think we have time to apply to a back-up club.

I'll let you know how it goes. Or you'll notice my avatar wearing a polo shirt. Either way, it's a sure sign that Armageddon is closer than we thought.

(why are we doing this? Because we met a bunch of the people over the summer and liked them tremendously. Because by "yachts" they mean "tugboats." Because it has a splendid view. Because it's lonely here in the winter. Because we secretly want to be Mary Ann and the Professor.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

lies lies lies

Dear girl from 7th grade,

I still feel terrible about your rings.

You gave them to me in art class because I had pockets and you didn't and you didn't want to wear them when we were doing that something or other with clay. You forgot to ask me for them after class, and I forgot I had them.

After art, I went to gym and had to change into the 100% polyester, electric blue gym suit that snapped at the shoulder, itched, gave tall people wedgies and was the biggest reason I hated gym and junior high. Moreover, I had to negotiate getting out of the undershirt my mom made me wear, without anyone seeing. I didn't notice when your rings fell out of my pocket.

You are meaner than me, so when you asked me for your rings the next day, I lied. I told you I had forgotten them at home.

You know in Demian (not Damian, that's the Omen), when the protagonist tells a lie at the very beginning and it ruins his whole life? Where he's pretty much OWNED by the lie? Yeah. Hermann Hesse stole that idea from me and junior high.

Here's the thing. You had a turquoise ring and a mood ring. Turquoise rings and mood rings were sold at the souvenir shop on Main Street. I figured if I could get my family to stop in there some time, I could buy you new rings on the sly. I did not take into consideration what I would do when you said, "er, these are not my rings" and beat me up anyway.

Of course, I didn't tell my family about the dilemma I was in, so they never took me there, so I had to keep putting you off.

It's amazing I didn't flunk out of school right there. I skipped, I feigned illness, I hid in my locker.

When I finally did get to the store, there were no rings left. Or maybe the rings they had didn't look like the rings I thought you had. After all, I had seen them for about 6 seconds - between the time you handed them to me and when I put them in my pocket, so how would I know? At any rate, I finally figured I had to tell you the truth.

You said I was a jerk and that I owed you $10 so you could get new rings.

That $10? Best money I've ever spent. I just wish I could stop feeling like hiding in a locker whenever I see a mood ring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

the luxury of angst

First of all, THANK YOU. I wrote that last post feeling like I was ruining Sugarplum's childhood. Now I feel like I wrote something so common as "I am afraid of running out of coffee." Thank you for the solidarity. The internet, as it turns out, is very good at inter-netting.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, some irony.

In the midst of my hand-wringing, Chris is still working on recording an audio book. The book is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Howard's son, Jeff, is doing the reading.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, let me just open it arbitrarily and share a passage:

"The law said the doors could not be locked during working hours, but at the Triangle Company doors were usually locked so the company could keep track of the employees. And so, trapped, the young women were burned to death at their worktables, or jammed against the locked exit door, or leaped to their deaths down the elevator shafts." p. 326

Well now there's some existential angst for you.

I imagine one of those women fretting about being taken for granted or another woman complaining about the food and it kind of makes me laugh. Sort of. These issues we have, they are a luxury.

It's a beautiful day. The kids are at school. My daughter, even though she's a girl, is allowed to learn to read. She can do anything she wants with her life. Anything. My son will eventually learn how to put on his own pants and then can also do anything he wants with his life.

I, too, am doing what I want with my life. I am here on purpose. And I'm awfully grateful.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

the fear of her becoming me

I have caught Sugarplum trying to keep me from breaking.

I don't know why I'm so fragile right now. I miss my solitude. I am tired of doing everything for everyone. I'm tired of people complaining. I'm tired of being taken for granted. I'm tired of not being able to work on my own projects. I miss being able to disappear for an afternoon without asking someone. I resent that Chris can disappear for a day without asking someone. I miss and resent and envy and mourn.

I love love love Sugarplum and Studley. I wouldn't trade them for the world.

I don't know what I want.

I want to not feel sad when my MiL won't eat what I've made for dinner.

I want to not feel taken for granted when I find myself alone with the kids, again.

I want more hours in the day so I can have some solitude without giving up my family time.

I want more hours in the day so I can make some progress on my own career alongside my full time job of keeping the family alive and well.

You're imagining how difficult it must be to deal with me, but really, it's not. What you hear now? It doesn't come out. It just sits there, inside. Where Sugarplum sees it.

And she does her best to keep me from breaking.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I have a new post over at Opera Betty because I will get you to like opera yet, people. It's about Turandot, which is almost exactly the same plot as the Penguin and the Pebble if Marina had a tendency to have the penguins with unsuitable pebbles beheaded.

And the Puccini score is almost exactly like the Barry Manilow songs, if by "almost exactly like" you mean "exactly like except you can listen to it."


Friday, November 13, 2009

this is my world

It was movie night here at the Towers.

Movie #1: The Penguin & the Pebble.
Synopsis by Sugarplum: Mommy mommy mommy I don't want to watch this why do they have to be so mean it's scaaaaary the seal is going to eat him no no no no I want to go sleep in your bed and you come with me please can't we pick another movie is the scary part over aaaauuuuuughhhhh.....! Oh, they made it?
Synopsis by Chris: are we seriously watching a movie with music by Barry Manilow?

Movie #2: a documentary on Les Paul (I missed the title, sorry).
Synopsis by Chris: Neumann U47, Lake Audio monitors, Tannoys, Neve console, Yamaha NS10, Ampeg tape recorders....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

wag more, slink less

Yesterday a friend of mine was telling me about a rescued dog who had been so abused, his tail was perpetually pasted to his belly.

One of the ways they worked with the dog was to pet the length of his back, straightening out his tail as they went: top of the head to the tip of the tail. From what I understand, the petting, plus the physiological placement of a happy tail, helped convince the dog that he was safe.

Which is awesome.

The shame is, you can't go around petting people from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails and get away with it.

Yesterday morning I went for coffee and the woman who sold it to me made me feel like I was ruining her entire day by asking her for something. She was like "here, let me tape your tail to your belly for you."

I don't mean to be a "hey everybody, be a little nicer to each other" Pollyanna Happypants kind of person, but WOULD IT KILL YOU?

This is my chicken wisdom du jour: don't let anyone push your tail down. And for extra credit, try making someone feel safe. Top of head, tip of tail.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Our chicken? The naked one? She now has blue quills poking out of the naked parts of her body. I assume these will be feathers. Or the kids have been practicing chicken voodoo. Or she's seeing an acupuncturist.

Frankly, this is more than I ever needed to know about chickens.

The other chickens are not making fun of her (they're leaving that to us). They don't laugh at her, or ostracize her at the water bowl. They don't talk behind her back or chat amongst themselves about how well/poorly she's doing. They do not discuss her situation and arrive at their own conclusions regarding her lifestyle, diet and relationship status.

They are not bringing her non-chicken noodle soup and then praising God that it's HER and not THEM who is naked and quilly.

They are just letting her grow her feathers.

As much as I've learned about chickens, it seems I could learn a few things from them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

the mommy wars, internal version

This one's a little ranty. You may want to skip it.

It's about how fun it is to be a stay at home mom. Sorry, work from/stay at home mom. I know, it's hard to remember that I work from home, especially with my MiL apologizing for waking me up every time she walks through the livingroom. Where I work. Or sleep, apparently, after I've collapsed in a puddle of Fabio-inspired truffle drool. Because that's what stay at home mom's do, don't you know.

Don't get me wrong, it really is fun. I mean, on Saturday I went with the kids to a fair where I got to eat hot dogs, stand around by myself while the kids did crafts and threw chickens (stuffed, PETA) and watch battery-operated pigs race to the finish line.

Battery operated pigs are admittedly hilarious. But if it were you, would that be YOUR first choice for a Saturday afternoon?

Activities with kids have their own, built-in charm. Top of the list is the look of absolute rapture on your kids' faces. Second is the unintentional humor. I'm a sucker for unintentional humor.

But when that's your down time? We have a problem.

The fairs and festivals and parties and celebrations happen on weekends and evenings, which would normally be time off. So you get your "time off" at these Screamingly Fun activities and because you are a Happy and Friendly person, you make it seem Screamingly Fun (remember look of delight on cherubic faces) and the people around you say "oh! how Screamingly Fun your life must be!"

To which I say, "are you effing kidding me?"

So you line up things to do. You make plans. With adults. And then you hope you're not tackled with resentment and an overstuffed inbox.

Which you are.

But it's okay because today is the day you get to go to work like a normal person. And then make dinner and play with the kids and put them to bed. There will be a semblance of order. There will be routine. All will be right with the world.

And maybe the kids will both sleep through the night without losing their pillows or having nightmares about scary dogs.

And you'll wake up anyway, sit on the edge of their beds, and just watch them sleep.

Which is more fun than pig races.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

music appreciation, by me

We had an emergency back up pianist at symphony today. He played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. No lie. (it had some variations that Sugarplum hasn't learned yet.)

The regularly scheduled pianist canceled last week and our artistic director (who is infinitely hipper than your artistic director, admit it) found the new one via some recommendations and YouTube.

The audience was all "what is this YouTube of which he speaks?"

The emergency back up was Frederic Lacroix. He came from Ottawa. With his piano.

I picture it like that Clare and the Reasons line:

"we were driving to a gig in toronto and olivier forgot his green card so we had to leave him at the border and then the steering wheel caught on fire. Can your car do that? No, I don't think so."

And since he had to bring his piano (it's a fortepiano), I pictured him driving along with it strapped to the top of his car with its little legs sticking up like a trophy kill.

Which is funny only because even I know "fortepiano" is an oxymoron.

The other thing I find funny is that the last time I searched for a guest artist on YouTube, I came up with a video of her all drunk and smudgey at a nightclub. It is maybe not her audition tape.

Lacroix (who was not all drunk and smudgey) played Mozart's Concerto No. 19 in F major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 459. I think. It's off the top of my head, you know.

After the intermission, the rest of the orchestra played Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 without him.

There's this lovely little moment in the k. 550 where it's a minuet but instead of 8 measures it's THREE MEASURES. I know! I couldn't believe it either.

And then I thought about how much I will miss Steven Tyler.

The end.

Friday, November 6, 2009

wicked classy

Thanks to the nature of Chris' work, we have famous and quasi-famous people dropping by the house from time to time. Thanks to the nature of my nature, I am often caught vacuuming off the dining room table, sporting prom eyes.

I need to learn where the mirrors are in this house. And use them.

In other news, the chickens are molting.

One of them is experiencing Severe Feather Loss. When she fluffs herself, it looks like an invisible predator is shaking the stuffing out of her. Is there a product on the market to help this? An "I'm not just the president, I'm a client" kind of product? Because if this goes on much longer, I'll be carting her to the salon for some feather extensions.

I have totally blown the chickens' salon budget for the month.

And now that I've described my morning mascara debacle AND chicken plummage, I suppose it's time to admit that we've applied for membership at the yacht club.

(pauses to admire puzzled looks)

I know.

Let's put this in perspective, shall we? Just last week, Chris was heard singing "Morning Has Broken" on the radio. It was truly awful. We are an embarrassment to society. And yet? We made it through the "if anyone objects, speak now or be forever miserable" phase.

I have no idea how this is going to go. There's an interview. There's maybe a secret handshake to learn. There are penny loafers to make Chris wear.

My question to you is, what does one wear to a yacht club interview? I thought I might get us some matching sweatshirts, with a three wolf moon motif. Except with chickens.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I wrote Jet Blue a song but it made the dog howl

Do you know how much fun it is to run into an acquaintance at the airport and when he asks where you're going, say "to have tea in D.C."? If not, you'll have to trust me. It's fun.

Things I spent more money on than my airfare to Baltimore:
bus fare to the airport
a sandwich at the airport

To which you say, "dang, that's an expensive sandwich." And I'd agree. I'd also admit I got a $9 fare from Jet Blue.

Bahahahaha! Nine dollars! To the city closest to where my very best friend in all the world lives! WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

I flew in yesterday, she took me to tea, I head home today. But not until I've trashed her house and eaten all her food. Old habits die hard.

A quick pantry scan this morning, while she's out being responsible, turns up a jar of Nutella, bags of chips and cheesey popcorn (which she says the dog got into but I think that's a ploy) and a big bag of Halloween candy. I made myself some frozen waffles and eyed the ice cream sandwiches while rooting around in the freezer.

In the words of my brother in law, our pantry contains Cup-o-Miso and Soy Ahoy.

So for $9, I get tea at the Mayflower, some serious Friend Time, and all the cheesey puffs I can eat before she gets home.

For $9 more, I can go home.

Thank you, Jet Blue, for both trips. Just don't ever leave me alone in your house.