Wednesday, December 19, 2012

maple syrup, or, putting away childish things

You know the old adage about when it rains it pours? I'm discovering that this can be applied to wonderful things as well as bad.

When I was a kid my family rationed maple syrup, which was collectively one of our most favorite things in the entire world. We often had pancakes or sourdough waffles on weekend mornings and we would drizzle the littlest bit of the "good stuff" on bites, and then supplement this with Aunt Jemima's or Mrs. Butterworth's or whatever brand was on sale at the time.

I grew up with this sensibility -- this protectiveness and drawing out of a single bottle of maple syrup for as long as humanly possible -- so ingrained in my very being that even now, as an independent and fully grown woman, I cannot quite overcome the notion that maple syrup is to be used as sparingly, as lovingly, as one can use it.

As of today and a very sweet Christmas gift from my lovely boss, I will soon have nine bottles of maple syrup in my apartment. Two open bottles in the fridge (one ubiquitous traditional plastic jug, one delicious chai-infused concoction from these lovely folks via my wonderful Cindy). A sampler of four bottles of different grades from my beloved Marcos. Two of those funny maple-leaf-shaped glass bottles in the pantry closet from the best neighbors ever. And now this bottle from Mary, nestled in red tissue paper and sparkly Christmasy gift bag. Somehow over the year's it's become the thing to give me -- the thing that dear friends have discovered I love more than almost anything.

Clearly the time has come to start reveling in my ridiculously large maple syrup collection, to start consuming it with wild and gluttonous abandon: pouring it over oatmeal and yogurt and ice cream, using it in baking and braising and sweetening my never-ending cups of tea and coffee, maybe even trying friend Jessica's crazy cauliflower maple soup recipe. I will spend days adding maple syrup to everything, and nights dreaming of this gorgeous liquid oozing between my teeth, dripping from spoons and glistening down the insides of mixing bowls and turning everything it touches sticky and golden and bright.

They say eventually we must put away childish things. I don't imagine this is quite what Corinthians had in mind, but still, aren't I the lucky girl?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

coincidence (fire), december twelfths

Two years ago, December 12th was this.

Last Wednesday, December 12th, I woke up just before 3am. It wasn't until I went into the bathroom that I became aware of a clanging banging nearly rhythmic noise crashing in through the open window. And then a woman's cry, "Has anyone called 911?!?"

I made my way back into the bedroom, still bogged down in sleep and wondering if any of this was real or just another one of those dark dreams that come around sometimes.  I found Evan perched on the window sill peering down to the plaza below, the cat mewling on the bed disconcertingly, herself seemingly disconcerted.

It was black smoke spewing out from the manhole cover in the middle of Cabrini Boulevard, and the force of what was below rattling and lifting and crashing the heavy metal cover itself against its moorings.

It was fire raging beneath the street -- buried beneath all that asphalt and concrete, trying to get the fuck out.

It was sparks and car alarms and brimstone and me, waiting with baited breath for the call of sirens screaming closer and closer, hoping with all my sleepy terror-frozen self that someone had called 911, that the world wasn't actually about to explode beneath us.

It took a long time after that to sink into back sleep, flashing lights of fire engines and police cars twirling around the plaza, red light seeping in through our sixth floor windows.

The next morning was rumbling of emergency Con Ed trucks, and a suggestion of smoke and electricity hovering in the air.

Monday, December 10, 2012

the small things II

I decided this morning that I would brave the post office on my lunch break to mail a shawl to an old college pal (this shawl, in fact, and lucky recipient of stepbrother Erik's gorgeous photographic maneuverings).

JP, my wonderful boss, just laughed and said, "You're going to do WHAT? Just go now before the lunch rush. I'm here, we've got it covered, really, just go right now."

So I did. And miracle of miracles, there was only one person in front of me. I traipsed on up to the counter, to the same postal worker I've dealt with a few times now, and trilled out my surprise and gratitude at the lack of lines so close before Christmas.

He just smiled knowingly at me and said, "Yes. It's a not so secret secret that when there's a chance of rain the women folk don't come out to the post office. They don't want to mess up their hair dos, you see..."

To which I rolled my eyes a bit and said, "Well, not ALL women folk."

He just kept smiling serenely and agreed, "No, no, not all women folk."

And then I came back to work and still had a full lunch hour to talk Nick's ear off about this and that and all the other things one talks about to one of one's closest friends.

Friday, December 07, 2012

the small things

It's ridiculous, the things that can make you feel better sometimes.

Yesterday afternoon I stumbled back up the hill to work after a particularly grueling therapy session, red-eyed and sniffling.  Coworker Ken, who had arrived while I was gone, looked up from his computer at the front desk and I swear his face just lit up, and he said, "Oh! I thought I wouldn't see you today! It always makes me sad when I get in and your office door is closed."

Thanks, Ken. That just made my day.

"so we put our hands up, like the ceiling can't hold us..."

Seriously crushing on Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, right now. He may just be the most adorable person ever to grace this earth. (Fair warning, Mom: there may be some bad words in this video. Watch it anyway!)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


When I was in high school my orthodontist, Dr. Gardner, joked that he'd started taking my before & after dental impressions with him to orthodontics conferences.  The better to show, he said, all the things that can go wrong in a kid's mouth and how he brilliantly put them back to rights.  Sadly, I'm pretty sure that he wasn't actually joking, and that he really did take my mouth with him to these things.

First, I had a huge gap between my upper and lower teeth caused in part by a tongue thrust developed in my toddler years, and also by years of finger-sucking.* The remedy for this problem, before the teeth could even be worked on, was to install a "fixed habit appliance," also known as a tongue rake or finger rake or  hay rake or just, quite simply, the rake. This rake had sharpened wires that curved spikily upwards and back from a crosspiece attached to the inside of my bottom front teeth.  These wire spikes oh so subtly retrained my tongue to stop going where it wasn't supposed to go.  Tears and bloody tongue and rage ensued. For the better part of 4th grade. But now I can swallow without sticking my tongue between my teeth (mostly) so I guess it worked.

After that came years of wires and brackets and braces and retainers and the ubiquitous and dreaded "headgear" that was practically a suburban rite of passage back in those illustrious '80s.**

The worst of the next six years following the installment of the rake was several months spent at the mercy of another relatively benign-sounding orthodontic device: the "palatal expander," also known in some circles as the skeletal expander. This little lovely had the fun job of expanding my upper jaw to make room for my overcrowded upper teeth.*** It involved a dental plate fitted to the roof of my mouth, comprised of two halves and an "expansion screw" which had to be turned twice daily with a tiny metal key. This literally widened my head, caused excruciating (if fleeting) headaches with each turn of the screw, and was neither a good way to start nor a good way to end a day.

Regular old braces were pretty easy going after these two contraptions, and eventually my teeth magically straightened and Dr. Gardner could congratulate himself on a job well done. (And straight they remained for a good few years, though now they've slipped back into a subtle, more natural state of overlapping asymmetry.)

Recently, however, I've been needing quite a lot of work done on my disconcertingly rotting teeth. My new dentist asked me early on in this now-going-on-four-months endeavor, "Why didn't you come in sooner?"  My only answer, and he looked a little taken aback by this, was that I'm used to a lot of mouth pain and learned early that it's normal and to be expected. (And also, who likes going to the dentist? Other than my sometimes weird boyfriend, I mean.)

Last week, mid-afternoon while typing away in my library office, a temporary crown came tumbling out of my mouth.  I called my dentist's office in a panic, wanting to go right away to have it put back in, but they were booked for days and suggested I just buy some dental glue at the closest pharmacy and stick it back in myself. Being at work and shaking with anxiety, I couldn't get it in right and so spent the rest of the day closed-mouthed and sweating, tongue irresistibly poking at the hole -- that gaping alien void where once had been a tooth.

Evan met me at the door that night and took one look at me and gave me a hug, asked if I was okay.  I explained that the only thing worse than the already paranoia-inducing feeling of having an alien ceramic object cemented into one's mouth is the feeling of having it fall out of one's mouth, of trying and failing to ignore the empty space left behind.

Monday afternoon I went in for yet another dental appointment, this time to have them remove the now-crooked temporary crown, do a more detailed impression for a permanent crown, and finally re-cement the temporary falling-out one.  They warned me it might be uncomfortable despite being numbed up first, but I wasn't expecting it to hurt quite that much; to hurt in similar ways to when I was a kid and trying my damnedest to not let Dr. Gardner or my parents see me cry.

It hurt so much, the taking of this impression, that I climbed out of the dentist chair afterwards in a daze, started to walk out without my jacket and bag, almost forgot to check in with the receptionist about my next appointment. It hurt so much that I desperately wanted to call Evan on my walk to the train -- to whine and moan and beg for sympathy -- but couldn't bear the thought of moving my face enough to produce coherent words.

I made it home in one piece of course, downed one of the extra-strength Motrin from the root canal back in September, eventually had some soup for dinner. The Motrin kicked in at last, my power over the spoken word came back, and I stopped feeling quite so broken, quite so sorry for myself, quite so mired in my ten-year-old self too afraid to talk for fear of letting on how much it hurt.

Now, just two more appointments until this saga is complete: an initial, and then a final, fitting of the permanent crown. But the thing is (and I can't quite acknowledge or fully get my head around this), apparently I need another root canal soon in a tooth on the other side of my mouth.

*I sucked that finger so ferociously and continually that it was constantly wrinkled and gross and awful, to the point that it earned its own nickname, my Awful, as in,"Emily Kate McNeil! Get your Awful out of your mouth!"

**Some of us, so certain we were fated to endure the horror that is headgear, were known to unfold paper clips and shape them into vague mouth-shapes and tuck them behind our lips, preparing for the pain and humiliation to come.

***My dad joked for years about how funny it was that my problem, of all people, was having a too-small mouth -- given the vast amounts of noise that came out of it, you see.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

giving thanks (also sexy pictures and knitted things)

Thanksgiving noon found me sobbing (rather pathetically it must be said), hunched over on the steps leading down into our living room.

This would be the end result of a morning that had started with such great promise: early to rise, some quality knitting time, a good start on our small but much anticipated Thanksgiving feast with dear friends driving down from Catskill.

But disaster struck in a fight over onions in the sweet potatoes (can it really be called a fight if one party -- namely me -- goes a little crazy and the other is ducking for cover?), flying barbs, destructive words, and the aforementioned sobbing.

Evan came to sit next to me, listening patiently (even in the wake of craziness and cruelty) to my snot-fueled wails about puffy eyes and mortification and shame and oh, how can we have anyone over and the world is a horrible place and is it too late to cancel Thanksgiving entirely?

To which he just looked at me and said, "Emily. She's your best friend. She's seen you worse than this."

And that was enough to yank me out of that particular downward spiral. A splash of cold water on the face and a quick comb through tangled hair and voila, we were ready for company. Mostly.

The friend of mine arrived with her awesome man and her kick-ass dog and a bag full of clothes to change into while letting me drape things over her and wrap things around her and take some really gorgeous pictures.  And for all of that, for my boy and this woman and her contentment and a wonderful warm afternoon and such simple, simple words, I am grateful.

golden yellow striped scarf
silvery lavender silk lace shawl
striped scarf, merino & alpaca, gold & burgundy
striped wool silk scarf in greens, blues, purples
waterlilies II shawl in merino, alpaca, silk
ivory silk lace wedding shawl

Friday, November 02, 2012

how to survive a hurricane, washington heights style

(a very biased view from a neighborhood on a hill)

It began, for me, with a worried phone call from Lisa late Saturday afternoon. I was working all day at the library and she, our Sunday supervisor, had just read that the city was leaning towards calling for a transit shutdown starting early the following evening. We started making staffing contingency plans: what to do if the library closed, what to do if the University demanded we stay open.

That night was my Nick's bachelor party, and quite the party it was. Intimately small and filled with such warmth and affection, but involving copious amounts of alcohol and karaoke caterwauling until 3am and dragging ourselves to bed a mere hour before dawn Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, it was gray and damp but not yet raining, and we had guests coming over for brunch. After our ridiculously late night we were both feeling a little worse for wear and it wasn't until nearly noon that I started putting together our brunch and Evan ventured out to the store for a pack of veggie sausages.

 (Apple German Pancake: slice and saute a couple apples in a little butter, with a bit of cinnamon, chopped candied ginger and brown sugar; mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 6 eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; spread apples into a greased 9x13 pan, then pour batter over the apples and bake at 450 for 20 minutes. Serve with maple syrup.)

Evan texted me saying the stores were out of bread and the lines wrapped around the aisles. All that afternoon we chuckled (scoffed, really, it must be confessed) at all these people hauling around cases of bottled water and armfuls of hummus and baked goods. Oh these hysterical urbanites, we thought, and patted ourselves on the back.

The University finally announced that all classes and events for Monday had been canceled. Moments later the call came through that the libraries would be closed too. (I don't know that my staff have ever been so happy to get a call from me before as they were this week.)

We ventured back to the store early that evening, pleased with our purchases of half a pound of whitefish salad and a couple pumpernickel bagels for breakfast the next morning. We cooked up some black beans and rice for dinner, with enough leftovers for lunch the next afternoon.  Lisa stopped by with a pomegranate.

And then there was this peculiar moment Monday morning, as the clouds thickened and the air started to feel oppressive, when we looked at each other and said, almost simultaneously and with a certain embarrassed anxiety, "What if all those people know something we don't know?"

I pulled out our largest stockpot and filled it to the brim with tap water, set it aside just in case the water went out. We started going through our refrigerator and cupboards, pulling out bags of greens, a couple squashes, a bag of beans that my brother had given us for Christmas last year and that had been lurking in the back of the cupboard ever since. We decided we better cook up whatever we had.

(Back-of-the-Cupboard Bean Soup: In a 5-quart pot, rinse the beans, cover with water and bring to a boil for a couple minutes. Turn off the heat and let soak for an hour. Dump out the soaking water, rinse, cover again with fresh water, bring to a simmer. Peel and smash a head's worth of garlic cloves, toss in the soup pot.  Also toss in a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a couple bay leaves, a dash of cayenne pepper. Let simmer for a couple hours, stirring occasionally, adding water or broth as needed to keep the beans covered. We added a couple of Evan's vegetable stock ice cubes (you can use any broth you want or just water) and some juice from a can of tomatoes. Add salt and black pepper to taste, serve over rice. This made enough soup for days and days.)

We munched on pumpernickel bagel and Franks Market whitefish salad while Evan cooked up all the bunches of greens and I set the soup to simmering. Early in the afternoon we went for a walk up to Fort Tryon park and back. It was just beginning to rain and the wind was picking up. The bridge, my beloved bridge, looked gorgeous and haunted in the diminishing noonday light.

Later that afternoon we stocked up on a couple bottles of wine and a bag of popping corn, and Evan dashed down the hill to Buddha Beer Bar for a growler of PumKing. (Clearly we had our priorities straight.) Early Monday evening we cooked up some white rice and Evan's pumpkin stir fry. I spent most of the evening watching old Law & Order on Netflix, knitting, drinking wine, and eating the pomegranate Lisa had brought over the night before.

(Pumpkin Stir-Fry: peel and cube pumpkin and steam till tender; while pumpkin steams, lightly beat a couple eggs; fry pumpkin cubes in oil over high heat, adding a dash of soy sauce, a little fish sauce, and a handful of coarsely chopped scallions. Serve over rice.)

We waited and waited, perched up on top of this hill not far from the northernmost tip of the isle of Manhattan and one block away from the highest geographical point in the borough, for things to get bad. And strangely, eerily, they never really did.

The rain picked up a bit but then tapered off. The wind rattled the windows for a few minutes and then tapered off. The cat freaked out, of course, and kept nosing into the vents in the air conditioner in the bedroom as if she could sense something strange, something malevolent, seeping in.

We waited and waited, chatted with our west coast relatives, reassured them all was well. The news started to darken though, both literally and figuratively. Friends on Facebook started posting about losing electricity everywhere: downtown, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts. Eventually, getting on towards midnight, our lights began to flicker occasionally. I decided it was time to go to bed.

I kept jerking awake that night, sitting up in bed and straining to hear anything at all -- pounding rain, gusting winds, sirens wailing in the dark  -- but mostly there was just silence. The university had decided to batten down the hatches one more day but I woke up pretty early Tuesday morning anyway. The eerie quiet continued, exacerbated by the profound silence of a city without traffic. No garbage trucks, no shrieking kids, barking dogs, blaring car horns. I crawled out of bed, walked out to the kitchen, listened to the humming of the refrigerator with an uncomfortable mixture of gratitude and guilt.

We had a quiet stay-at-home morning. Cups of tea and hours of the guilty pleasures that are Nashville and the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Beans over rice for lunch (oh the ridiculous amounts of beans and rice we had!). Eventually we decided to venture out for a walk down towards the river. It was misting out, and the air felt heavy and damp and clean.

Water dripped from everything and we sloshed our way through downed leaves and branches and puddles of mud. Perched by the river, the little red lighthouse seemed to glow in the surrounding gloom. And the river itself, well, it had retreated mostly back to its rightful path but was broiling and  muddy and inconsolable.

We wandered down by Columbia-Presbyterian and looped around and headed north. Eventually, 5pm, we met up with a couple neighborhood friends for happy hour drinks and shared horror and dismay at the pictures coming out of neighborhoods to the south. Friend Zak, fearing the morning commute sans reliable public transportation from his neighborhood, made his way up to join us at the bar, and then came home for dinner and a night's sleep on our couch.

The next morning, Wednesday, the M4 was running, if packed to the gills, and it took no longer than usual to get to the library. What seems shocking, frightening, to me is how normal things were, and have continued to be, in the face of so much devastation mere miles away.

To get a sense of it abstractly, one need only take a look at this map from the MTA, wiping out access to huge swaths of New York City. But even this doesn't describe the feeling of otherworldliness as we stand on subway platforms listening to announcements that there are no trains south of 34th Street, as bus operators announce that all transit fares are being waived, as stories come out that gas is running low throughout the tri-state area. (Yesterday, as I passed a gas station on my walk to the train after work, there were cars lined up around the block and police vans closing in with megaphones blaring instructions to disperse, the gas had run out.)

This Sunday Nick is getting married in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It sounds like quite a few of their guests will not be able to make it after all this craziness, and I can only imagine how heartbroken he and his Sarah must secretly feel about this. But I asked him today how he was doing and he, in his ever succinct way, said there's a certain romance in getting married in the wake of disaster, of "love among the ruins and all that."

I have been stressing out all week about getting to the garden from way up in Washington Heights, enduring the lines for shuttle buses and stumbling along Atlantic Avenue in my fancy strappy shoes. But if Nick can be so pragmatic about carrying on, (and yes, if thousands of patient New Yorkers can so calmly carry on), the least I can do is get myself to my best friend's wedding on time.

Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles)

 *Music (mostly) thanks to Evan and his hurricane playlist

Saturday, September 22, 2012

silk lace shawl, beaded

Available here.

guilty pleasures

Over our now traditional lunch of a shared Sezz Medi pizza and a salad,  I asked Richard yesterday what he's reading these days. (This, too, is tradition, and we often trade notes on good books.)

This time, though, he looked embarrassed.  He hemmed and hawed and eventually I told him to just fess up already.

"Tom Clancy," he mumbled, and only half-jokingly cringed away from me, hiding his face with his hands.

I burst out laughing.

He glared at me, disconcerted and blushing, and grumped, "Well? What's so funny?"

"Me, right now? Robert Ludlum."

"Nooooooooooooo!" he said. And that was the end of that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

scarves & bourbon

I want to talk to you about scarves.  I want to explain how there was a particular year during which they were all I knew how to do.  A certain man had left, and that dark frozen January seemed devoid of everything good.

(Of course this wasn't the case, and I had the proof in the people that I love: Jill whose couch I cried on; Cindy whose keys were tucked into my coat pocket just in case my own home became too barren to bare; Lauren who took me out for margaritas and listened with unerring patience to my moments of speech and long, empty silences; Mom who wrote postcards to my brother with instructions to tell her if I stopped going to work, stopped getting out of bed, so that she would know to come right away instead of waiting until the springtime.)

But when I think about that year, what I remember is sitting on the couch alone, glass of bourbon close to hand, interminable sleepless nights, and brightly colored soft woolen balls of yarn cascading across the metal and glass coffee table he'd left behind.

There were so many scarves to make! So many textures and colors and ribs and lengths! (Just scarves. Patterns, learning to read them, thinking about anything, of course, was too much, too exhausting to fathom.)

Eventually pretty much everyone I gave a damn about had a scarf and yet I still couldn't seem to stop making them. Midnight, two in the morning, 6 a.m., hours and hours of knitting.

I made so many damned scarves that I filled up bins and bags and boxes. I made so many scarves that I set up tables at craft fairs and offered them at bookstores. Neither endeavor was overly successful, though, and so for the last three years I've been using them as last-minutes gifts: for birthdays, for moves north, for no reason at all.

But I live in Manhattan, and our apartment is small, and I need the storage space for newer, fancier, more involved work.

A couple weeks ago I decided to bring them to work, to offer them for sale to my colleagues, my friends, my acquaintances.  I didn't really expect them to go, and I imagined I would end up donating them to Housing Works along with my ongoing book-weeding project.

But today the last of them sold and will soon be boxed up and shipped off to an old friend from college days who will be redistributing them this Christmas.

I came home and set this last bag of scarves down, and was taken by surprise when I told Evan at first gleefully that they'd sold, only to find myself on the verge of tears.

They'll soon be gone in all their brightness and glory, in all their sad scared nights of insomnia and NyQuil and Maker's Mark.  And of course this is not to say that all that drama (trauma?) is gone forever too, but it felt, standing there in the kitchen earlier this evening, as if a last entangling, suffocating, clinging tentacle has maybe retreated into its proper place in the past.

It's a really good feeling, and one that I hope decides to stick around for awhile.

And I have a confession to make: I spent the half-hour before dinner tonight looking through bags of yarn in my closet, in Evan's closet, on the dresser.  I was looking for ideas for new stripes, bright and cheerful and warm and made in a place of contentment. (I know, crazy, right?)

They were really pretty, my bags and bins and piles of scarves, and a part of me feels a little naked without them. It's nice to think about interspersing my fancy beaded silk shawls with just a few of these wooly happy easy things.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

it's all relative

I'm not sure which is goofier: the fact that I am reading Kathy Reichs' Monday Mourning, or the fact that I am reading it using an OECD bookmark.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

girls in high places

It happens too many years.

September grows close and the quiet of a university in summer abruptly ends, and there's a certain excitement and dread in the air. Thousands of students descend on the campus to begin or resume this part of their lives. Classes begin, the year begins to move towards its end.  And then someone plummets to her death.

My last semester at Barnard, in the fall of 1998, it was a girl taking a swan dive off East Campus. I had a crush on another girl entirely that semester, a dark-haired girl whose simple presence and quirky grin made me blush and and want to giggle. A mutual friend told me this crush girl was jealous of the East Campus girl, and I don't know that I've ever felt quite that same ache again.

A couple years later it was a girl jumping from the top of a spiral stairwell in one of the dorms. One of my favorite student employees lived in that same dorm, woke to hear the girl screaming all the way down, came to work early the next morning and spent hours helping me measure shelves in the stacks, dry-eyed and stony-faced in a way that only she could bear.

Two nights ago it was a freshman leaping from her dorm (the same dorm my brother lived in his freshman year), apparently having made it through the first day of orientation only to crash just before midnight to the sidewalk on 114th Street.

She was eighteen and intelligent and loved, but of course that can't always be enough.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'i think it's absurd that you think i am the derelict daughter...'

I woke up the other morning with my father's chicken scrawl in my head and these words in my ears.  It was a strange, jagged dream about a spiral-bound notebook in which we took turns writing to each other, berating each other for not being what we expected, what we had hoped for.

And that's pretty much it.

I woke up jagged and angry and lost, and went to work and lost myself instead in the semi-controlled chaos that is a university on the precipice of a new academic year, one of the places he thought of as home.


I walked into my usual deli this morning for my usual cup of coffee, only to find the three guys behind the counter standing shoulder to shoulder and staring, gape-jawed, at the television mounted opposite the counter near the ceiling. I turned around, rain sluicing off my umbrella and glasses running water, to see what it was that had them so entranced.

It was otters.  Specifically, footage of two otters holding hands and being all snuggly-wuggly. And I'm still not sure what was more adorable -- the otters themselves, or my deli guys practically cooing over them (and looking embarrassed to be caught at such things).

Friday, August 24, 2012


There's a moment every year--a clear, crystalline moment--when you are reminded that summer will not linger forever, that fall is on its way.

Sometimes it hits you over the head, comes storming in (or at least threatening to storm in) like God's own thunder, and sends an entire city into lockdown.

Sometimes it is meditative, or vegetative, or sad.

This year it was more subtle than that. After a seemingly endless string of broiling hot city summer days, we forgot to turn on the bedroom fan one night earlier this week before going to bed. I woke up hours later, 2am and filled with strange dreams, drenched in sweat. I got up and turned on the fan, drank a glass of cold water, returned to bed and eventually to sleep.

Just as it began to grow light, in those moments before true dawn, I woke up cold, and I pulled the sheet up tight around myself and curled towards Evan, whose broad back and tangled hair felt comfortably, wonderfully warm.

I am leaving town this year for Labor Day Weekend, for the first time in ages and ages, and last night got it into my head to settle on a knitting project for the trip.  Apparently I am done with my summer silks and pale, bridal colors.  I pulled out from deep in my closet a gorgeous over-sized hank of merino wool in rich dark burgundies, jewel reds, almost browns: the perfect transition piece into the coming autumn.

That moment, that cusp, came early this year and even if it gets up to a hundred degrees next week there isn't really any going back.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

turns of phrase

I love Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I don't know or care overly much about half the shit he writes about, but I'll read him on pretty much anything.  And sometimes he writes something so obvious, yet so beautiful, in its clarity that I want to shout it from the rooftops.

"Via The Atlantic Wire, Steve King claims he's never heard of anyone getting pregnant from statutory rape. Specifically he said that it isn't "a circumstance that's been brought to me in any personal way." 

Again the thing about power is that it makes opening your eyes optional."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

that momentary kind of love

Some current loves of mine.

Underground New York Public Library: This woman wanders around the subway taking pictures of people reading books, and sometimes ebooks, and that's pretty much it. It's great. There's a lovely interview with her this month on Vanishing New York (which is also a wonderful, wonderful thing). Follow her Facebook page for daily updates.

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York: the subtitle of his blog pretty much says it all, but he's got some great stuff here.

Humans of New York: wonderful, quirky, gorgeous photographs of people walking and talking and living in the streets and parks and plazas of this beloved city of mine.

Scouting New York: a movie location scout's take on the big apple.

"It is a funny question. Do you know what I mean? That kind of momentary falling in love that happens when you see a person on the train with a book."
(Jeremiah, Vanishing New York)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


For years, coworker Manley would visit his mother every summer and lug a suitcase of her garden-grown tomatoes on the train back to New York City.  The next morning he would bring us each a paper lunch bag filled with these perfect, beautiful, delectable fruits.

His mother's tomatoes haven't been doing so well these last few years, and she herself is getting too old for much gardening. But it's tomato season again and our CSA is practically overrun with the darned things (cheerful elongated yellows and bright round reds and deep purples and gorgeous jewel-like zebra-striped greens), and I need to remember to return this much-loved waning-days-of-summer favor.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

'hey my love do you believe that we might last a thousand years or more if not for this...'

I have a friend who adores Dave Matthews Band. I, as I am sure you are not overly surprised to learn, do not adore Dave Matthews Band, but they do have one song that I have loved ever since first hearing it in 1996.

But the thing is, I don't think I've heard it much since then, and apparently my connection to it doesn't have much to do with reality.  I was explaining to her, over a couple of beers the other night, that Dave Matthews always seemed kind of facile to me, and frat-boyish, and easy. Except this one song that I loved, and that always felt dark and drugged and tinged with tragedy and danger. She asked me what song it was, and I told her, and she just looked at me funny and laughed and started reciting lyrics.

Celebrate we will
'Cause life is short but sweet for certain

We're climbing two by two
To be sure these days continue

No doubt she has a point, but I still stand by mine too. I don't know that I know many songs as sad, as beautifully desperate, as this, and even after nearly fifteen years, despite all its lovely pretty lyrics, it still brings me to tears.

Friday, August 17, 2012

new york city (friday night)

Had dinner this evening with an old friend, a magnificent woman, a practically sister known and held dear since time immemorial.

She is roughing it these days. Dark circles and sharp tones betray the exhaustion she is too depleted, too proud, to own.

We ate expensive pizza and drank cheap wine on this comfortably warm August night, and made our way to a nearby Chelsea bar patronized mostly by warring girls throwing political views (Sandra Fluke: virgin or whore? Of course I dove right in) and cute Irish bartenders asking our names.

We talked about work woes and family woes and the trials and tribulations of being young or not so young and alone in this city, in the greater world, in this life.

I found myself wanting to give her Sarah, gift wrapped and glowing in white tissue paper, welcoming and life-saving and warm, but instead I struggled to even really advocate therapy from this place of constant imperfection, and so I hugged her goodnight and came home.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

bridal shawl, beaded

Knitted bridal shawl, natural bamboo/merino/silk fingering-weight yarn, with gold-lined clear glass beads, now available here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

'but sometimes you can't be sure...'

My mother, a few months back, had a run-in with the police. By which I mean that she was working in the garden one spring afternoon when a cop car pulled up in the back alley (this is not as threatening as it sounds -- we are talking small town America here, not the mean streets of Gotham, and this particular alley is lined with wild flowers and climbing roses) and asked if she lived there.

When she nodded, he asked if they could talk. She, ever the polite hostess even while anxiously awaiting the worst, asked if he wanted a cup of coffee. He proceeded to spin a tale, an outlandish tale, involving a husband gone missing half a century ago, a suspected murder, and the concrete floor of my parents' garage.

That was merely the beginning. My mother and stepfather, in cooperation with the local police department, cleared out years' worth of accumulation (rusted barbecues, rain buckets and potting soil, boxes of old books and baby clothes and photographs and letters). Eventually there was space for the police to bring in ground penetrating radar equipment.  The grandson of the missing man came to the house, along with a local news crew, and the police set to work. The GPR picked up something -- an anomaly, an unknown, perhaps a body -- grounds enough to break through the concrete, dredge up what may lie hidden beneath.

But the story was even stranger than that.  The missing man, Isak Iverson, disappeared in 1967. He was 71 years old, and had been married to his wife, Helga, for fourteen years. They were both born in Norway. He emigrated to the United States in the '20s, she sometime after World War II.  During the war, it is said, Helga was a member of the resistance, and had the distasteful but necessary job of disposing of Nazi bodies in the ice and snow of the Norwegian mountains.

Family lore was that she'd offed her husband, buried his body in the family garage, poured a new concrete floor, and eventually reported him missing.

Yesterday equipment was brought in and concrete was smashed and absolutely nothing was found. My parents, Isak's grandson, and gawking neighbors milled around outside waiting for news, and word spread quickly that there was no body; that Isak Iverson was still missing, will officially probably be missing forever.

The police still believe Helga killed him (old stories linger of a blood-stained corner on a wooden dresser, a wallet with cash left bebind), and that his body is likely somewhere on the property ("A beautiful place to rest," said one cop, and he's right), but the investigation is over. The story is finished.

But maybe Isak, despite all the evidence, just left: started a new life, found a new wife, retired in his golden years to a warmer, balmier place -- Hawaii or Florida or sunny San Diego. Or maybe there was an accident -- an argument and a push and a fall, and the inevitable ensuing panic. Or maybe Helga, resistance fighter who stood up to one of our great human evils, really did murder him but had her reasons.

It's hard to think that we will never know, that sometimes there is no closure, and that this is truly where the story ends, shrouded in a strange and lingering sense of mystery and history and loss.

"Disappearances, apparitions; few clues, or none at all.
Mostly it isn't murder, a punishable crime -- the people just vanish. They go away, in sorrow, in pain, in mute astonishment, as of something decided forever. But sometimes you can't be sure, and a thing will happen that remains so unresolved, so strange, that someone will think of it years later, and he will sit there in the dusk and silence, staring out the window at another world."
(John Haines, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire)

Friday, July 20, 2012

'everyday life is a life lived...'

"Everyday life is a life lived on the level of surging affects, impacts suffered or barely avoided. It takes everything we have. But it also spawns a series of little somethings dreamed up in the course of things."
(Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

no, thank you!

1320 yards of pure alpaca goodness arrived in the mail today, along with a box of books from the mother -- there's not much more a girl could ask for, really, at least in so far as the postal service goes.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


Nick carries in his head a picture of me from many, many years ago. It belonged to his then-girlfriend (an old and dear friend of mine going back to grade school days), who pulled it out to show him not long after she'd first introduced us.  I've never seen this picture myself, but somehow we got to talking about it one evening last week during a larger conversation about old photographs and the different ways in which we are caught in them.

I'd been rummaging in old boxes and had found a small stack of pictures taken by an old boyfriend.  He took good pictures, that boy of mine, of many, many things: darkening skies and fractured trees and blizzards and architectural oddities and beloved friends and me.

My favorite of his pictures of me is this one, in which I was so far away (or he was) that it is mostly just empty space -- wooden dock, open water, hazy shoreline and hills and sky -- and me, a distant body, in the midst of all that beautifully suffocating air.

I love this picture, but it also makes me feel like I must have been infinitely tiny then. Like I must have felt very fragile and small, out there in the middle of such nothingness, lapping water and splintery old wood and flat sky holding more force than my barely there, nearly indiscernible self ever could.

Nick described his particular picture with phrases that made me want to cry.

I watched him from across the table, our dinner plates pushed aside and our second round of margaritas dripping condensed water between us. His hands shaped the air in front of him, and he looked at them as he worked through his memory of that picture, dredging up what he had thought of it back before we knew enough to love each other.

"You were a lot skinnier then. And you looked so tired," he said. "Caught in a moment of being very far away, of being very still. Of maybe working to hold something in, or keep something at bay. I don't think you knew that anyone else was there to see."

I don't remember this picture being taken, but I imagine it was during the latter part of '96, during a weekend of fleeing the city, of wanting to be somewhere home-like and safe, my friend's childhood house. I was very tired back then, and doing things that were not very good for me.

This was years before that old boyfriend and his pictures, and before a hard-earned ability to shroud myself sometimes with distance and solitude and quiet, empty spaces.

My favorite picture now, taken just last month, is this ridiculous and beautiful thing. It is up close and immediate and filled with laughter (there may have been tickling involved), and the air is bright, and my hair is blowing across my face, tangling in my glasses and catching in my throat, in my teeth.

This new picture, in all its tickly-forced goofy glory, was taken by someone for whom I want to be entirely present in ways I haven't really wanted, haven't really felt capable of wanting, before.

bridal wrap for j.

seasilk wrap, in 'saltspray'

sage green leaves shawl, beaded

available here

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

all the pretty colors

I get sucked in sometimes by all the pretty colors. Most recently, it was eye shadows. She was offering sample sales! And oh how I wanted to look beautiful in the likes of passion fruit and  plum berry and glistening grapefruit and autumn leaves.

But the sad truth of the matter, as I've learned over the last few weeks of excitedly applying these gorgeous colors and immediately and frustratingly scrubbing them off again, is that unless I'm going for the up-all-night-sobbing look, they're just not for me.

I spent way too many mornings over the years trying to cover up the remnants of actual up-all-night-sobbing to even consider emulating the look now.

So sadly, but also with a certain relish, into the trash go all these particular little lovelies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

'inside there is the deep quiet...'

"Inside there is the deep quiet of protection and near-abandonment. You hear the hum of the lights, turned on as needed; that’s it. There’s a phone to make outgoing calls on the fifth floor. To me the stacks are the most sacred space in the library, yet here nobody’s telling you not to talk. You’re on your own. It’s a situation for adults."
(Ben Ratliff, Grazing in the Stacks of Academe, about Columbia University's Butler Library)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

'sad eyes like sharpened daggers, you'll never walk only stagger...'

I am a sucker for pathos, it is true. Especially, probably not surprisingly, when it comes to adolescents and drugs and death.

I've been watching Skins, a rather shockingly graphic British television series about a bunch of fucked up to varying degrees teenagers. 90210 gone bad, if you will.

The acting is good, the music is decent, and the stories are dirty and mean and sweet.

Sid, one of our angsty young heroes, wakes up one morning to find his father dead in his easy chair, presumably from a stroke or some other abruptly instantaneous demise. (The father, a gentle and worn down soul, still has one hand curled around a glass of whiskey; the other dangles a cigarette burned down to the nub.)

Sid, in shock, goes to school and spends the day staring into the void, not telling anyone about the nightmare that is waiting for him back home. Later that night his best friend Tony drags him out to a club to see Crystal Castles, and this is what happens there. Pathos enough to make you cry. (And buy a Crystal Castles song, at least if you are like me, and a sucker for such things.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

the zombies & me

I never really thought of myself as a zombie type of gal. All the horror novels that Ari read when we were kids gave me the heebie-jeebies. (Let's be honest -- just reading the descriptions on the backs of those books were enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.) Certain episodes of Little House on the Prairie gave me nightmares (there was some scary shit in that show, I swear!). Jaws kept me out of the lake (yes, a lake) for almost an entire summer. And though I was preoccupied with armageddons of all sorts as a kid, zombies never really figured into my end-game scenarios.

And yet here I am, all tangled up in Newsflesh and The Walking Dead, and I'm not quite sure how that happened.

It sort of started with a walk down Central Park West a couple years back. And then there was Nathan's birthday gift not long after that. And then I watched a couple Romero movies. And the 28 Days Later movies. And then Nate & Shanna gave me some socks for Christmas with ZOMBIE written up the sides. And then I kind of got obsessed with the geopolitical machinations behind World War Z. (Just ask Evan, who had to put up with my incessant ramblings about this on many a long subway ride home...) And now ridiculous articles like this jump out at me from the boiling troubled sea that is our chronic information overload these days.

Nick and I were talking the other day about the many ways in which ebook-readers have changed the way we read, not the least of which is the sense of privacy they provide. I might not read quite so much YA dystopian fiction or zombie crap if everyone on the bus could see what I was reading every day.

Then finally yesterday morning there was this in my inbox, which made me chuckle out loud and think fondly of one of my absolute favorite childhood books:

"I tried to arrange a zombie apocalypse, just for you on your special day, but it didn't quite get off the ground.  Or out of the ground, as it were. At least ... I don't THINK it did ..."

And with that, my friends, comes what I am sure is this very surprising confession: I am a zombie type of gal.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


A dear friend of mine celebrated her thirtieth birthday earlier this week.  We first met during the summer of 2005 and have celebrated our birthdays together, in one way or another, ever since.  This year she is upstate at a writing workshop carving beautifully sad prose out of the life she is living now, and out of lives she is just beginning to learn:

Thirty, by then, was the shoreline coming closer, the way an outline finds itself filled with green, and then, finally, trees, as you move toward it.
(Erica Sklar, What Happens When You Turn Thirty)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

book give-away!

Adachi, Jiro - Island of bicycle dancers
Adamson, Gil - The Outlander
Agee, James - Death in the family
Alexie, Sherman - Indian killer
Alexis, Andre - Despair and other stories
Allende, Isabel - Kingdom of the golden dragon
Allison, Dorothy - Trash
Anderson, Lorraine - Sisters of the earth
Arenas, Reinaldo - Before night falls
Asimov, Isaac - I, Robot
Bailey, Tom - Grace that keeps this world
Baker, Ellen - Keeping the house
Bakopoulos, Dean - Please don't come back from the moon
Banks, Russell - Sweet hereafter
Basho, Matsuo - Narrow road to the deep north
Baudelaire - Les fleurs du mal 
Baudelaire - Selected poems
Baxter, Charles - The soul thief
Beach, Sylvia - Shakespeare & company
Beers, David - Blue sky dream: a memoir of America's fall from grace
Birney, Betty - Oh bother! Someone's afraid of the dark (Winnie the Pooh)
Blaire, J. H. - Caliente! The best erotic writing in Latin American fiction
Bollmann, Stefan - Frauen, die lesen, sind gefahrlich und klug
Bounds, Gwendolyn - Little chapel on the river
Bowles, Paul - The sheltering sky
Bradford, Richard - Red sky at morning 
Brite, Poppy - Exquisite corpse
Brockman, John - What is your dangerous idea
Brockman, John - What we believe but cannot prove
Brown, Rachel - All the fishes come home to roost
Casey, John - Half-life of happiness
Chabon, Michael - Wonder boys
Chaltas, Thalia - Because i am furniture
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Clarke, Susanna - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Cleave, Chris - Little bee
Coates, James - Armed & dangerous: the rise of the survivalist right
Codrescue, Andrei - Involuntary genius in America's shoes
Coetzee,J.M. - Inner workings
Cole, Marjorie - Correcting the landscape
Coupland, Douglas - All families are psychotic
Coupland, Douglas - Eleanor Rigby
Coupland, Douglas - Hey Nostradamus!
Coupland, Douglas - Miss Wyoming
Crutcher, Chris - Deadline
Daly, Mary - Beyond god the father
Daum, Meghan - Quality of life report
Davis, Claire - Winter range
DeLillo, Don - The body artist
Deyo, L.B. - Invisible frontier: exploring the tunnels, ruins, and rooftops of hidden New York
Diaz, Junot - Drown
Dillard, Annie - The living
Duberman, Martin - Stonewall
Ebershoff, David - The 19th wife
Eck, Diana L. - Darsan: seeing the divine image in India
Edwards, Kim - Memory keeper's daughter
Ekman, Kerstin - Blackwater
Ekman, Kerstin - Forest of hours
Ellis, Bret Easton - America psycho
Ellis, Bret Easton - The informers
Ellis, Bret Easton - Less than zero
Ellis, Bret Easton - Rules of attraction
Epel, Naomi - Writers dreaming
Evans, Polly - Kiwis might fly
Fallada, Hana - Every man dies alone
Fitch, Janet - White oleander
Ford, Clyde - The long mile
Frayn, Michael - Headlong
French, Tania - The Likeness
Frey, James - Million little pieces
Frey, James -  My friend Leonard
Glass, Julia - Whole world over
Gordon, Philip - Winning the right war
Greenberg, Michael - Hurry down sunshine
Haigh, Jennifer - The Condition
Hamsun, Knut - Victoria
Hennessy, Michael - Borzoi practice book for writers
Hersey, John - Hiroshima
Hesse, Hermann - Demian
Hinton, S.E. - Some of Tim's stories
Hoge, James F., Jr. - American encounter: the United States and the making of the modern world
Holmqvist, Ninni - The Unit
Horsley, Kate - The Changeling
Irving, John - Cider house rules
Jentz, Terri - Strange piece of paradise
Johnson, Denis - Seek: reports from the edges of America & beyond
Karr, Mary - Cherry
Kasischke, Laura - In a perfect world 
Kavenna, Joanna - Birth of love
Keaney, Brian - Jacob's ladder
Kesey, Ken - Demon box
Kesey, Ken - One flew over the cuckoo's nest
Kinsley, David R. - Hindusim: a cultural perspective
Klages, Ellen - Green glass sea
Knapp, Caroline - Drinking: a love story
Korelitz, Jean Hanff - White rose
Krauss, Nicole - History of love
Krist, Gary - The white cascade
Kundera, Milan - Unbearable lightness of being
Lakoff, George - Don't think of an elephant!
Lansens, Lori - The Girls
Larsson, Stieg - Girl with the dragon tattoo
Larsson, Stieg - Girl who played with fire
Lewis, C.S. - Mere Christianity
Lindbergh, Anne - Gift from the sea
Lynch, Jim - Border songs
Machiavelli - The Prince
Males, Mike A. - Scapegoat generation: America's war on adolescents
Martel, Yann - Life of Pi
Martin, Valerie - Trespass
McClintock, Barbara - Adele & Simon
McEwan, Ian - On Chesil Beach
McLarty, Ron - Memory of running
Meyer, Stephanie - The host
Miles, Jonathan - Dear American Airlines
Mills, Mark - Amagansett
Mintz, Sidney W. - Sweetness & power
Mowat, Farley - Never cry wolf
Myers, B.R. - Reader's manifesto
Naifeh, Steven - Mormon murders
Olsson, Linsa - Astrid & Veronika (gorgeous, excerpted here)
Packer, Ann - Dive from Clausen's pier
Peacock, Robert - Sleep: bedtime stories
Pessi, Marisha - Special topics in calamity physics
Petterson, Per - Out stealing horses
Pham, Andrew X. - Catfish & mandala
Phillips, Arthur - Prague: a novel
Phillips, Glasgow - Royal nonesuch
Powell, Julie - Julie & Julia
Proulx, Annie - Close range: Wyoming stories
Quinn, Daniel - Ishmael
Rechy, John - City of night
Reiken, Frederick - The odd sea
Rettenmund, Matthew - Boy culture
Robinson, Mary - An amateur's guide to the night
Rosenstone, Steven J - Mobilization, participation, and democracy in America
Rosman, Abraham - Tapestry of culture
Roth, Philip - American pastoral
Rousseau - Basic political writings
Russo, Richard - Empire Falls
Sachar, Louis - Holes 
Salerno, Marie - New York pop-up book
Salzman, Mark - Lost in place: growing up absurd in suburbia
Salzman, Mark - The solois
Salzman, Mark - True notebooks
Sapolsky, Robert - Why zebras don't get ulcers
Saramago, Jose - All the names
Saramago, Jose - Blindness
Saramago, Jose - Gospel according to Jesus Christ
Sartre, Jean-Paul - Nausea: the wall and other stories
Searles, John - Boy still missing
Selby, Hubert, Jr. - Requiem for a dream
Shengold, Nina - Clearcut
Shields, David - Remote: reflections on life in the shadow of celebrity
Shokeid, Moshe - A gay synagogue in New York
Simpson, Helen - Getting a life: stories
Slonim, Ruth - San Francisco: the city in verse
Smith, Ali - The accidental
Snicket, Lemony - Series of unfortunate events, 1 & 2
Stahl, Jerry - Permanent midnight
Stein, Garth - How Evan broke his head & other secrets
Stein, Gertrude - Paris, France
Steinke, Darcey - Jesus saves
Strachan, Mari - The earth hums in B-flat
Styron, William - Sophie's choice
Takaki, Ronald - Strangers from a different shore
Tappon, Philippe - Parisian from Kansas
Tayman, John - The Colony
Townsend, Julia - Zeynep: the seagull of Galata Tower
Trachtenberg, Peter - 7 tattoos: a memoir in the flesh
Tritle, Lawrence - From Melos to My Lai: a study in violence, culture and social survival
Troyan, Sasha - Forgotten island
Turnipseed, Joel - Baghdad express
Vonnegut, Kurt - Welcome to the monkey hous
Wallace, David Foster - Girl with curious hair
Winterson, Jeanette - The PowerBook
Winton, Tim - The Riders
Whitehead, Colson - Zone One
Winter, Alison - Mesmerized: powers of mind in Victorian Britain
Woodward, Bob - Plan of attack
Wolf, Linda - Daughters of the moon 
Woolf, Virginia - Mrs. Dalloway
Wright, Robert - Nonzero: the logic of human destiny
Yoshimoto, Banana - Amrita
Zevin, Gabrielle - Elsewhere