Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009...

Wishing all you lovely bloggy folk a very happy new decade, full of thrills and satisfactions and sweetness and love...

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Unwelcome Visitor

As the blizzard covered us softly, stealthily, inexorably in a foot of lovely lovely snow...

I lay sick a-bed with influenza. Still not clear whether it is of the swinish or regular variety, but it hardly matters.

Dutiful wife and mother that I am, I made sure Sarge and Hedgehog had all their shots. Me? No, I'm invincible.

I'm still quite unwell, laid up pretty much completely. I do hope everyone else is faring better!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Me. Yet Again.

Seven things about me, requested by the lovely Kat (please do check out her blog here, if you haven't already, I'm such a fan of her wonderful writing) in exchange for a bouquet of flowers and some sweetness! I'm never one to shy away from going on and on about myself, so I am happy to oblige. Although in the interest of maintaining some distance, I did initially ask Sarge to do it for me (a new twist on a meme, if you will). He rolled his eyes and said, "you want me to tell seven things about you for a blog post?" "yes." I said. "Can you handle it if I tell the truth?" he asked. I realized right then that the only truth about me would have to come directly from me and not him, otherwise we would be entering marital encounter group territory. And who wants to do that?

Anyway, here's seven things about me:

1. Gosh do I love having my hair pulled. Probably too much information right off the bat?

now for an uncomfortable juxtaposition

2. I still like to cut out paper dolls sometimes.

and a non-sequitur

3. I think the rooftop sex scene between Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor in "Velvet Goldmine" is the most beautiful love scene in all of cinema. The first time I watched it I was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

4. I have watched "Velvet Goldmine" more times than I can count. I mean that literally. Can I somehow convince you to see this movie? If you see it, you'll know what the inside of my head looks like--and I mean that figuratively.

Okay, if number four is getting a little too weird for you, how about

5. I had a true craving for pickles when I was pregnant, just like the stereotype. But the craving only lasted one day. I bought a jar, bit into a juicy cold half-sour, was elated, sated, and done. I never had the craving again after that.

talking about one's pregnancy is gauche. Sorry about that.

6. There is only one person in the world who is allowed to call me a "J.A.P." If anyone else were to call me that I would slug 'em. Even if it were true a little bit. Which it is. Which is why I laugh when she calls me that.

and to end with something that I feel deeply, seriously:

7. To me, the written word is more seductive than the spoken. Oh, far more seductive.

I'm too shy to tag anyone, but feel free to leave me a secret about yourself in the comment section below. I would really appreciate it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dvorah and Hemda

Eliezer and Dvorah

In this picture is Eliezer Ben-Yehudah (see the link for his story, if you feel ambitious; he was an enormously important figure in Jewish history, notable for being instrumental in the formation of modern Hebrew), and his first wife, Dvorah. His second wife, Hemda, was Dvorah's sister. Yes, he married two sisters consecutively, and these two sisters were cousins of my Grandma Eva. Yet, cousins could mean anything at all really--and we wonder how exactly Dvorah and Hemda were related to us.

Eliezer and Hemda

Alas, this secret died with Grandma. Although she shared with us few specific details, it was an emotional topic for her. Apparently Eliezer, in his quest to rejuvenate Hebrew as a spoken language, was singleminded and harsh. My sister tells me that Grandma cried when she talked about it, describing how terribly abusive he became toward Dvorah when she continued to speak Yiddish, the language of her home. He demanded that his family speak only Hebrew.

But what strong connection made Grandma feel such empathy that she actually wept in the telling of a story that she could not have personally witnessed, as the Ben-Yehudah family settled in Jerusalem and she and her immediate family in Brooklyn? Had there been a closeness between her mother and this other branch of the family, had she overheard her mother's stories about the abusive tendencies of the charismatic Eliezer? Were there letters, now lost?

Although there is a great deal of information available about the famous Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, there isn't much told about the wives. I'm consumed with curiousity, and wish dearly that I could ask Grandma about Dvorah and Hemda.

photos from online archives

Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Pennies

Tonight begins Chanukah, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but festive and filled with light.

As I polish the menorah and wrap Hedgie's first little gift, I'm in my usual strange December state of mind. I'm Jewish, but surrounded on all sides by Christmas--because, of course, I don't live in an 18th century shtetl. But as I do every year, I begin to feel stirrings of rebellion somewhere deep inside.

It helps me to remember the old pennies. Every year at Chanukah, in preparation for our game of dreidl, my Grandma Eva pulled out the bag, sagging under its own weight. The pennies smelled funny, felt funny. But they held strong symbolism: of our family together, our precious faith and tradition that set us apart from others. A tradition that we had to be brave enough to hang onto in the face of the temptations of over-assimilation.

Our December holiday, though its story is grand and momentous, is truly humble in its celebration--potato pancakes, a game of tops, little presents, candles flickering in the early darkness, and, of course, the bag of old pennies.

No, Christmas is not my holiday. And these little Chanukah traditions are all I want--these, and nothing more, exactly as it should be. I don't mind being different.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Really, why is it that the very thought of snow makes me feel so melancholy?

from my favorite short story, "The Dead" by James Joyce.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Shop Girl

Much like Donald Duck, who is pictured in the comics as everything from an industrial gherkin vat skimmer to a sea captain, I have held a wide variety of jobs in my life thus far. I've been a waitress, a college professor, a receptionist, a domestic violence counselor; sorted mail, edited poetry anthologies, dipped ice cream, written encyclopedia entries, sold books, typed letters, taught Hebrew School. I've had temp jobs and careers. But looking back now, I would have to say that my favorite incarnation was as a shop girl in a high-end NYC soap shop.

Of all my many vocations, I was probably best suited to this. I love fancy soap. Love it, use it, and am well-acquainted with its many scents, properties, and varieties. No used-car salesman I, my regional manager once held me up as an example: "Leah has a certain quiet elegance [let's be honest, I was code-switching]. She doesn't use hard sell, but she sells!" High praise, and I've never forgotten those words.

Indeed, I sold. My specialty was the befuddled wealthy young gentleman, who often wandered into this foreign territory in pursuit of a gift. His unease was apparent, the heady floral scents overwhelming his common sense and reason, the boudoir appearance of the place rendering him rather incapacitated.

I had an advantage here in the merchandise for, in addition to the pretty shell-shaped soaps and rose-y creams and talcs and perfumes, we carried a very old and venerable men's line. And chief in my arsenal was the flat glass case containing, like an exhibit in a natural-history museum, the finer implements of consummate masculinity: boar-bristle shaving brushes, straight razors, and leather razor strops. If he seemed especially uncomfortable upon entry into the shop, it was to this case that I would lead him first, before we advanced to the inner sanctum. He, self-effacing; I, murmuring sweet nothings about that manliest of all ventures, the shaving ritual. Once I had wielded that gleaming and dangerous straight razor in my neatly manicured hands, he was usually all mine.

Never mind that his own home habits tended toward a Gillette safety razor and a can of Barbasol. The merest hint that he was the sort who could handle the treacherous task of naked razor against naked skin, could competently sharpen that razor to deadly glint against naked leather, when the need arose...this was enough to bolster his compromised maleness and give him the courage to forge forth.

More than once, the gentleman left the shop with an overflowing basket of pretty ablutions for his lady, in addition to the entire very expensive shaving kit that, in neophyte hands, might end an otherwise humdrum workday morning in severed carotid artery and Italian-tiled bourgeois bathroom re-painted in pint or three of fresh Hedge Fund easily I conjured the cheerful scene in my imagination as I wrapped the purchases and sent him on his way, hundreds of dollars in the old wooden till, a simple exchange of money for happy delusion. Though as far as I know we never had any true casualties of that razor, for perhaps there was a lesson in its proper use offered by a knowledgeable father or grandfather, or perhaps the wife or girlfriend stepped in at the last moment to save a life...

I will say in my defense that I never lied. I always gave a respectfully delivered caveat: "...but do remember, even for the most dextrous, it takes a little practice..."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Great-Grandma Manya

Great-grandma Manya, Benny's wife.

She stayed behind in their Russian village for several years, while Benny made his way in the new world. When he was settled, he sent for her (and how I wish I had a copy of that letter!), and Manya sailed to Ellis Island, her children in tow. She took little else from the old country save the gleaming brass samovar, carefully wrapped in woolens, destined to join a little army of its brethren all over Brooklyn; the ubiquitous bequest found even today in the modern houses of many families of Russian Jewish descent. At this very moment it sits, gleaming still, in the hallway outside my bedroom, though the black tea leaves have long since evanesced.

My mom remembers her Grandma as a lovely, lovey woman. And when I asked my mother's cousin, she said, succinctly, "there is a memory of a bosom."

I think of Manya squeezing her grandchildren close, pressing them into the flowered decolletee, the powdery scent enveloping.

take a look at some other Sepia Saturday posts HERE!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How I Named My Blog

This is my favorite book, and I say that unequivocally (the only thing that runs a close second is Laura Ingalls Wilder's "These Happy Golden Years"). It's a sequel to the almost equally wonderful "Invitation to the Waltz".

An old boyfriend, who was himself a writer, read "Weather" on my recommendation and said, "well, I'm surprised. It really isn't very romantic now, is it?" Well, not in the strict sense of the literary term "romantic"; it's a thoroughly modernist work by a woman writer. It has a ragged ending; things don't tie up neatly. Nor even very satisfactorily. The hero is hopelessly weak with shaky morals. The heroine is utterly human. But the book had the greatest impact on my late girlhood, and now my older self; it's that kind of book.

I still wonder a little bit why this boyfriend was surprised at its lack of standard romance--surprised that I would like it so much? Did I come across as a romantic, and the hard edge was unexpected? I'll never really know...

Anyway, I named my blog for this book, and because I just like the expression so much. Last night, Sarge and I were discussing this and I discovered, to my great interest, that we had very different interpretations of the meaning of the phrase "the weather in the streets." I had always thought it suggested dreaminess, daydreaming, staring out the window at the rain, a little removed, looking at things through a pane of glass...Sarge said "the 'weather in the streets' is the real deal, it's what's really going on." I hadn't thought of it that way. Two very different perspectives!

I suppose both interpretations work...

Saturday, November 28, 2009


On the left is my great-grandfather Benjamin. I realized, when I set out to write a little bit of history, that I know next to nothing about him. The bare facts, only: he was my mother's paternal grandfather, born and raised in Russia, came to America by way of Ellis Island and set up a tailor's shop in Brooklyn. He spoke at least three languages fluently (Yiddish, Russian, and English). He must have had an accent. He was married to Manya, he had four children: my grandpa Max, my Great-Uncle Harold, and my great-aunts Libby and Tilly. He died early and tragically, before my mother was born, of his injuries a few days after he was hit by a car on Eastern Parkway.

My mother said he was known for being "austere, but likable."

I suppose I also know that as a young man, he was interested in grooming. Just look at those twirled mustaches, that oiled and rolled hair! He enjoyed a glance in the mirror... or two.

And I'll bet my life on some other things too: that he had a sense of humor (for his sons, both of them, were wickedly funny). That he had a sense of adventure (but then, didn't they all, who came over the long rough waters to Ellis Island). That he had a pervasive sense of gloom (for who in my family does not).

But as for the little details, they're lost to me: What was his favorite dinner? the colors he preferred in a suit? the song he hummed as he ran his sewing machine? the way he smelled and talked and moved his hands as he told a story?

for more tales of the ancestors, visit Poetikat, Alan Burnett, and Betsy (among others) on Sepia Saturday. And if you have an old sepia photo of your own, why not share it?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful, I Think!

I woke this morning at 5 a.m. to a strange feeling that I couldn't quite identify at first. I had to come fully awake to understand what it was...

And so, what was it? Unbelievably, it was an anticipation of the holiday, and I am so happy that I can't go back to sleep! I say "unbelievable" because I haven't experienced happy anticipation of Thanksgiving since I was a girl, and we used to go out to Long Island to my paternal grandparents' house in the suburbs--and my dad was alive, and my grandma and grandpa; and my sister and I would sneak m&ms from the enormous bowl set out in the livingroom, and everyone plus stragglers were arrayed around the dinner table--it was lively and the conversations raucous, then ebbing, then flowing and raucous again--and the relatives asked you about school and boyfriends, and there was a chocolate cornucopia in the middle of the table. We were all there and it was fun. So much fun!

Then there were the long fallow years, when Thanksgiving day was a little bit lonely, and alienating, and just made me miss the lost ones all the more.

Now suddenly it's different. I'm not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my sister-in-law (technically, my sister's sister-in-law, but we are close and I like to think of her as my own) and I were discussing the food we'll be bringing to my sister's house today. This conversation made me feel happier and happier. We are all good cooks, but I'm leaving it to the others to bring the special fancy dishes ( the brined turkey, the cranberry cornbread, the lovely homemade fruit pies). Sarge suggested that I contribute some white trash cooking in homage to my deep Kentucky roots on my dad's side (yes, I have some Southern Baptist in me!) and to his Texas roots on his mother's side. So my contributions will be ambrosia "salad," frito pie, and green bean casserole. So much fun to make and fun to eat, so quintessentially and generically American, nary a fresh ingredient in the lot.

I shopped for the dubiously tinned and frozen ingredients, and last night, late, I made the Ambrosia, and this morning opened the fridge to lay witness to the fluffy, sweet, pale green clouds of it, nesting in my huge bright blue bowl, ready to go. It took up most of the entire bottom shelf. There was a tell-tale dent where Sarge must have put serving spoon to its depths--just to test it, I suppose. But the bounty remains largely untrammelled and expectantly awaiting the good times ahead.

Sometimes it's wonderful just to let go of existential brooding and let yourself feel the lightness of pure, mellow, childlike satisfaction. I realize that I haven't let myself do that in a very long time, not about anything. My spirit is often burdened with memory and worry. But not today. Not today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

...there grew a golden tree...

Hedgehog is a special girl, serene-looking, waist-length straight hair and fine posture, lovely and composed and well-behaved in school. She reads widely and seriously--an ongoing favorite is Tolkien, which she studies in bed at night like a bible. So when she was assigned to choose a poem or a song to present in class, I was not surprised that she picked Galadriel's Farewell to Lorien, from "The Fellowship of the Ring":

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold,
and leaves of gold there grew.
Of wind I sang, a wind there came
and in the branches blew.
Beyond the sun, beyond the moon,
the foam was on the sea,
and by the strand of Ilmarin
there grew a golden tree...

and it goes on from there, and of course I had tears in my eyes when she sang it to me, in made-up tune and a little off-key, because she herself is so very Elven (in the Tolkien sense--graceful, brave, upright, and otherworldly) and because I am amazed by her all the time.

Hedgehog is a good girl, but as I've said before, she seems to have an affinity for a certain type of boy...

The afternoon of her presentation, when I asked her how it went, she was much much more interested in telling me about this year's naughty boy (there's always one, isn't there) who brought in lyrics with curse words, and how the teachers told him that he couldn't read them aloud in class.

What was the song? I inquired with great avidity.

She started to giggle, It was the Beastie Boys, Mama.

Ah, I replied. Most of their songs have bad words in them. So which song was it?

My Elven 3rd grader, who recites elegies to lost worlds and worships the beauty of Old English, began to stagger under the weight of her laughter, overcome with the wonderfulness of being bad.

So? Tell me! I demanded.

She was practically falling down with hilarity.

Finally she squeaked out, but with precision:

"B-Boys Makin' with the Freak Freak!"

Oh, indeed. B-boys makin with the freak freak. I could see it all so clearly: as Hedgehog stood to the side and watched in delight, clutching her own poem like a talisman, the bad little boy rode those words in a glory of naughtiness, at least equal in daring and boldness to the heroes of Middle Earth!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bloggy Hiatus

Hey sweet readers!

Going on a vacation from the interwebs--hopefully it'll be salubrious--


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

La Boue de Verdun

The last WWII veteran in my family, my dear Uncle Harold, died several years ago. With the passing of the generations goes too the immediacy of the wars of their generations. I have never had visceral experience, not even on the home front; only what was told to me by those who fought, and whose fathers, brothers, and uncles fought: the letters, stories, and memories that offer only hints of what it was like for them.

We live in wartime, but many of us are so removed from the fighting on foreign soil that it doesn't affect our daily lives, except in the political arguments we sometimes engage in from our safe distance. Yet, I know that for many other families here in America, of course, there is not this remove, and their loved ones are "over there." That Sarge, were it not for an accident of age, would have served.

When Sarge and I visited Paris, we spent some hours at the Musee de l'Armee at Les Invalides, where we found a strange little exhibit, an old WWI French Army uniform resting in a glass case. It appeared to be completely caked in dirt. When I bent to read the plaque, I saw that it said, simply, "La Boue de Verdun," the mud of Verdun. I will always think of that uniform, displayed in a corner behind glass, a tangible remnant of the fear, suffering, and the bravery. He was covered in battle, and he saved that muddy uniform carefully for so many many years, and although I don't remember the soldier's name, I remember today that mud, and think of him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Psychic Hangover

I have come to the grim conclusion that it is not necessarily salubrious to go delving into the dark parts of one's psychological past, especially when one is prone anyway to fits of black gloom. When I was younger, I liked to air the details of the more peculiar aspects of my childhood, to myself in my journals and to any willing live audience. Looking back, I think it was a bit of showing off: my life was like a book, and I the romantic protagonist. I had created a new genre: European Jewish Gothic. It suited me perfectly.

Over the last week, though, I've come to think that revisiting the pain was, shall we put it mildly, most unhelpful. Although I announced to Sarge last Wednesday, after I'd finished with staring at the photos of my old home and writing my last post, that I'd achieved a major catharsis. I stood in front of him and proclaimed it with joy and relief, "Sarge, I just had a catharsis!" to which he replied, skeptically I venture, "really? So you're purged of your weird feelings about Henry Street?" to which I replied, "Yes! I have no weird feelings left in me!"

It turns out that this was not the case (as Sarge had sussed out even in the face of my grand optimism) and in fact, far from achieving catharsis, I have actually dredged up no small amount of sadness and discomfort. You can't imagine how disappointing that is.

All my study of psychology (I even have a higher degree in the field!) has not, apparently, led me to a place of peace and understanding. Just when I think I've begun to understand myself, I find that I'm plain wrong. My past, it seems, is better left in the heavy safe that is locked, combination forgotten or deliberately lost, and stowed deep deep down in my subconscious--or better still, my unconscious. There, stripped of its uncomfortable realness, its metaphor acquires a certain lightness (a paradox, I know, but for me it's true). Let's just say that I feel better when I don't eat such a heavy meal of details.

So here I sit, paralyzed with feelings, the fog of depression clouding my spirit. A pox on my last post.

My current unfortunate state can be summed up in Nigel Tufnel's line from Spinal Tap: "Like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none: none more black."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Castle

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there were two sisters with brown eyes and brown hair that they wore in braids, and hand-me-down dresses and scuffed Keds. These girls lived in a very very old castle in Brooklyn with their grandparents, the Patriarch and Matriarch, and their parents. In those days, the regular people, the Russian immigrants and working-class Jews, the teachers and tailors, could live in castles in Brooklyn just because that's the way things were.

This castle was five stories high, and its windows and brick front gazed down on Henry Street where it sat, well-mannered, the street a parlor and the house foundation a silk settee, its stoop the polished mahogany tea table where it entertained an always-varying assortment of guests.

In the walls of the castle, the light was dim, and the air was heavy and smelled of old old things that couldn't be named. The castle had ghosts, too, and a cold spot at the top of the first flight of stairs, so that sometimes when the girls passed there, it felt like walking through lakewater, and they shivered.

In the castle, they lived their lives. They ran up and down the five flights of stairs; they shouted to each other leaning over the bannisters, floors apart; they played in the attic, the old servants' quarters, where no one else ever went anymore, and wore the clothes of their recent ancestors (the dead foxes with faces, the red chiffon nightclub dresses, the pillbox hats).

They slept in iron beds with dancing friezes molded on the headboards, under fancy bedspreads, painstakingly crocheted by the Matriarch. The nights in the castle felt sometimes long and dark, and were full of little noises, and often the sisters would reach out to hold hands across the wide yawning chasm between the beds.

Though the castle was not very cozy, it was their home.

But there came at last a time when a wicked glamour fell over the inhabitants of the castle, though no one knew who had cast the glamour, and the people who lived in the castle wondered continually "why us?" Many sad things began to happen to them. Some died, terribly, and some went mad from grief, and there was bitterness and there were complicated betrayals of the worst sort, one after another after another, like a delicate stack of falling cards. Through it all, the two little girls watched and waited and worried, to see what might become of them.

When there were only three left out of all of them, it happened finally that the little girls and their mother had to leave, and a family of strangers moved into the castle at Henry Street.

The sisters grieved their losses, and it was a very hard and long grief, until finally they could go on and grow up.

But the dreams never stopped, and often to this very day the older sister wakes in the grey dawn in her own house, beside her own husband, confused, not remembering where she is, because all night long she has been walking up and down the stairs of Henry Street, and wandering in and out of its kitchens, catching a pale glimpse of herself in its windows and mirrors, and talking with the dead Matriarch and Patriarch, who seem to sit forever at their dining table, drinking their forever cups of tea and eating their forever toast, and waiting for her to come back to them.

And to this very day, she keeps a strangely shaped key on a sterling chain, the key that fits that door, the door to my castle.

All photos of my childhood home taken by my grandfather, Max Pollack

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A New Post, about Nothing.

You know when you don't have much to say? And you want to say it anyway?

I've got nothing at all clever, or even particularly interesting today. I just wanted to post over the spirit pictures below, as Halloween is over and my little girl is back to being a little girl rather than a chiffon shade.

Yesterday was Sarge's birthday, and he's on vacation. I took Hedgie to school and we spent a quiet day together, just hanging out. Nothing exciting, just hanging out. I watched him wander the nuclear wasteland in "Fallout." We listened to Flamenco music for an hour, then to bazouki music and he grew nostalgic for his upbringing. We had lunch together--raiding the fridge for leftovers. I baked him a chocolate cake. We did three loads of laundry and he folded, very nicely I might add. We watched some Monty Python--you know that obscene sex education skit, the one that always makes me blush and cackle at the same time. We spent a long time discussing how to keep Hedgie grounded even though she attends a school full of uber-wealthy, silver-spoon children and we live modestly. I begged him to write me a "meme" to post and he refused. I knitted and he pottered.

Then he left to pick up Hedgie from her cello lesson, and to grab take-out burgers and french fries, a delight that I don't often indulge in. They returned home for presents and cake, and Looney Tunes, and after that, in true Victorian dinner party fashion, Hedgie gave us a cello demonstration, and we were amazed at her good tone--no squeaking and screeching!--and then she gave Sarge a little lesson, laughing as he hunched over her quarter-sized cello.

That was my day. And this was my post. Oh and I left out the very private bits because I am nothing if not circumspect.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Victorian Spirit Photography

An ethereal little girl, a few yards of silk chiffon, an inexpensive camera...a spirit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Inner Goth

My Inner Goth's name is Hestia. She thrives after the sun goes down: in the lengthening dusk, or silent midnight, her little dark spirit flickers like the last guttering candle end in a sootblackened candelabra, her impression in the mirror gazes back at me in shadowy reflection, her pallor streaked with the silvering of the old glass.

Surely her Halloween might be better spent: a kiss in the graveyard, a picnic on a gravestone, summoning shades in a gloomy parlor somewhere. Instead, she'll be with me, trailing behind a noisy, happy, clattering herd of small costumed children. She'll adjust the little black veil on her hat, and wipe the kohl tear-tracks from her cheeks, reciting, sotto voce

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk...

As I step on Skittles, flung behind the revelers, as my boot heels crunch on watermelon Jolly Ranchers, and catch in the elastic thread of abandoned plastic drugstore masks...

...but if you should catch sight of me, across a crowded street, and call to me "Hestia!" I'll raise a languid hand in greeting...

sterling candelabra, from Grandma Eva, on our Victorian organ, a wedding gift from my dad to my mom

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I sat quietly on the couch this afternoon and watched the two heads bent together over Hedgie's math homework, and listened to their voices in earnest discussion: Hedgie's high little one piping up in interest, questioning, and Sarge's bass notes answering.

I remembered those dark winter evenings with my father, our heads together over my math homework, the lamplight glinting off his gold glasses, the red of his beard; I could hear the bass notes in his voice, the patient explanations, feel the sweet eureka moment as I understood the equation; I could see us together again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


everyone tucked away in bed but me,

I peeled my apple with the little paring knife

and ate it,

drank the hot sweet tea

the only stars visible in all of Brooklyn tonight were these bright sparks amid the books

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Shoe Canon

Shoes. I've been thinking about shoes. Such potential for fetishizing, and you know how I love a good object of fetish (oh please, won't I ever shut up about my fetishes?)

I wrote many months ago about my favorite clothes through the years. I thought I'd add an endnote to that post, about the shoes that have held special meaning for me.

Here are the ten seminal pairs of shoes from my personal Shoe Canon:

1. The orthopedic shoes of my childhood. I got to choose every year until I was seven or eight from the three colors available: navy, burgundy, and brown. Simply dreadful. Why orthopedic shoes? I was quite pigeon-toed. And guess what! I still am. I like to think of it as a delightful quirk.

2. My aunt's black suede grommeted platform shoes. She had tiny feet, so I could play dress-up in them without falling over. I think the contrast between my clunky orthopedics and these marvels of glamor made me think that life, or at least shoes, would not always be so drab and defeating...

3. Patent leather tap shoes with wide grosgrain ribbon ties. I adored my tap instructor, George. He was about a million years old and had been in vaudeville, and could still tap the hell out of a floor.

4. Ballet slippers. I remember the excitement of sewing the little pieces of elastic across the instep.

5. Black Capezio character shoes, my first heels. Same now as they were in 1983. Let's be honest, they really don't look all that thrilling, do they? It's hard to imagine what I saw in them, but back then the faux leather and ingenue heel screamed possibility.

6. Macdougal Alley Skimmers. When I just googled them, what did I find? The only reference online seems to be a comment I made ages ago on someone else's blog: "The '80s for me are typified by a quintessentially NYC fashion: the MacDougal Alley Skimmer. Capezio flats in about eighty colors; many girls I knew collected them like girls in the '50s collected cashmere sweaters." My one lone pair was electric blue.

7. Steel-toed motorcycle boots. In college, I thought they made me look tough and sexy. Who knows, maybe they did, but it's up for debate. Though I could certainly kick frat boy ass if I needed to...

8. The hiking boots that I wore every day in Israel, when I wasn't wearing sandals. Those boots took me across deserts and up Masada. I absolutely destroyed them that year.

9. Sarge's army boots: when we first fell in love, he was a drill sergeant in the Army Reserves. Once a month, he'd leave college to do a drill weekend at the nearby Fort. I loved to watch him polish those boots in preparation; he was a brilliant, meticulous, patient, and dextrous polisher. I knew it was a very good sign.

10. Hedgehog's first shoes: Irish linen slippers with a linen button on each. So ridiculously expensive, so difficult to tuck her fat little feet into them properly. So lovely.

I asked you about clothes in my old post, let me ask now about shoes, about the special, meaningful pair in your personal history.

So, nu?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hot Sweet Cheer

A random collection of little pleasures from my day:

Glenlivet with Sarge, leaning against the kitchen counter mid-afternoon, taken in quick swallows; the searing flame in my throat, the flooding warmth at the top of my head, making me fuzzy and clear at the same time...

Good and Fiery--my own box, all mine in its artificial brightness, its hot sweet cheer.

Bach, "Goldberg Variations."

Motorhead, "Ace of Spades."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Damp, Dark, Dreary, and Chilly...

is the weather forecast for today.

My favorite sort of day, it makes me happy to imagine myself later this afternoon, solitary, an hour or two just for writing.

What else makes me happy:

Chores done (a very humble sort of happiness): the washing machine humming in the kitchen, the last dishes drying on the rack in their neat row, bean soup simmering away on the stove, challah dough set for its third rising, perhaps even a cake in the oven?...

Warmth: first fire of the season, the soft pink cashmere slippers I crocheted for myself, a fresh pot of chicory coffee, the hiss of heat from the radiators...

Family: Hedgie home from school, her little rubber boots drying by the hall radiator, companionably curled on the sofa with her new Septimus Heap book, occasionally reading a passage aloud to me...and finally, Sarge's footsteps on the stair, a sound I wait for each evening...and Hedgie flinging her book aside and rushing to throw herself at him--"daddy!!!!" "oof! Right in the breadbasket!" he says and hugs her back...and kisses me...

Not every single day is so sweet, of course, but surprisingly often, now, they are. Today will be that sort of a day, I can feel it in my bones.

Note: lest anyone think I'm being a bit too precious here, and in the interest of strict truth, I feel compelled to add that my roof is leaking into the living room, and so all this domestic bliss is accompanied by a steady little drip--drip--drip of rusty water into a pot...see, I'm nothing if not scrupulously honest...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The. Horror.

I have just sacrificed my darling family to the Gods of Radio City. Sarge will be crushed between the iron thighs of the Rockettes. Hedgie will be paralyzed by the flashing lights. And my mother-in-law, whose idea this was, will delight in everyone's misery.

Everyone's misery but mine, that is. I was in charge of procuring the tickets this morning. How many tickets do you think I purchased? Four, as I was supposed to? No. I purchased three. The MIL doesn't know it yet, but I am not going, and that is now a fait accompli.

I'm posting this in my series of things that make me happy, because not going to the Christmas Spectacular makes me happy, so happy. But more than that, the idea of the Christmas Spectacular, to which I am not going, fills me with a weird cheer. As long as I don't have to be in the audience, the thought of all that utterly insane, over-the-top faux Christmas coming at you like a bad acid trip is funny! Even more, the thought of Sarge, dignified, masterful Sarge, sitting third row center, gritting his teeth, gripping the seat, and praying for Death's sweet release, well, that's funny too!

I'm so sorry, Sarge. You know how much I love you. I would do anything for you. Anything in the world, that is, but take your seat at the Christmas Spectacular.

Let's just call it my own special form of psychological bondage and discipline.

I know I'll be paying eventually, but oh is it worth it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Invitation to the Waltz

You've caught me! in the midst of preparations for the Manor Ball.

After a long search, I finally found my special dress--where else but in a book:

"She slipped off her mother's fur coat into the footman's hands, and gave a touch or two to the white dress. Floating, transparent and fragile, swathing itself lightly over breast, waist and thigh and sweeping backwards and out in a wide flaring line, it was a romantic, pretty, waltz-like frock. Inside it she felt drastically transformed, yet at home with it, able to suit it..."*

And what else but the light, fragrant white Gardenia tucked behind my ear, a contrast to my rather somber, slightly frowning dance partner, whose name I need not tell you.

*from "The Weather in the Streets" by Rosamond Lehmann

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Little Love part 2

our country lane, and my little car

To continue with my Things that Make Me Happy posts...

last weekend, I was banished away upstate all by myself...not really, but Sarge took care of Hedgie for two nights and two days while I went to take care of a brake recall on my new car. A prosaic errand that yielded a wonderful time alone. I'm a sociable person, but sometimes I need some time all my own--and not just an hour or two, but a real bit of time, to "get my head together" as Sarge says.

So I took myself all the way to my cabin in the Adirondacks. A five hour drive, just me and my ipod and my iced coffee, and my thoughts, uninterrupted for several hundred miles of highway. Two days and two nights of utter privacy! Everything was just right: the chilly rain made my aloneness more tangible, and somehow cozier; the lovely orange fingerless gloves, made for me, seemed especially soft; the coffee was sharper, stronger, tangier--the milk richer; the walks by the quiet lake more meditative; and at night, when it cleared, the sky full of stars winking at me, just for me. My bare toes snuggled in the blankets that seemed to know I was by myself, and, obligingly, were extra warm. My midnight chocolate bar was extra sweet. The owls hoo-hooed for me, and the deer flashed their tails through the woods behind the house--as if they knew I wanted to catch quick sight of them, but wouldn't linger. The quiet world was mine--not empty, but full of things I noticed, because I was by myself. And my writing flowed...

I think it was a gift from Sarge. Sometimes he knows just what I need, and he gives it to me, even if it is inconvenient. I returned better than new.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Little Love

I've been just sort of sitting here in Brooklyn (well, not literally but figuratively) trying to chase away the weeping woohoos--and it's come to my attention that others are doing the same thing in their corners of the world.

I'm going to try to post something that makes me happy every day for awhile, beginning with a little giveaway--

I've knitted up some small cotton dishrags to give away to anyone who wants one; I've got seven, so the first seven people who ask for one can have one (if there are seven who do). They are very nice and sturdy, and I like them better than sponges, and they do their lil tiny part for the environment, I suppose.

Here they are:

My other nice thing for today is Hedgehog, rocking out on her bass:

I leave you with some hugs and smooches--

Don't forget to tell me in the comments if you want a dish rag, and if you don't you can say hi anyway and get a virtual squeeze!

xo Leah

P.S.: for anyone who would like a little dish cloth, just don't forget to send me your address info. Email me at

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I'm a collector (let's not say a hoarder) by nature: beads, books, buttons, yarn, china dogs, vintage bakelite dresser sets, kawaii, pressed glass, vintage textiles, comic books, postcards, cards for my stereopticon...I won't go on...

But my favorite collection is the stack of humble hand made dish cloths that sits on the shelf above my kitchen counter. Each of these was made for me by a different lady, given through swaps, as gifts, just to be sweet. I treasure their homey cottony presence in my kitchen; they are good will and sentiment, the kindness of strangers; they recall an earlier time, before dishwashers and even cellulose sponges and paper towels. Sometimes I spend a moment or two staring at them, thinking of the many hands that made them for me, and I feel a little brighter, buoyed and cheerful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We Have Winners!

Okay, it's 12:01 a.m. and I've put my number into the random number generator, and come up with...


Megan, you've won yourself a hand-knitted scarf. Let me know via comments or email what color(s) you might like and I'll go dive into my stash!

Now, as for my other contest. A few brave souls volunteered ideas for objects of fetish. I had a really really hard time deciding between all the great ideas, and in fact you can look forward (?) to seeing some of their suggestions in my "what am I fetishising today" box in the next week or two.

However, I have to go with the lorgnette as my favorite, and so the winner of the custom amigurumi is


MJ, let me know via email or comments what you would like to see in an amigurumi, and I'll wield my crochet hook with impunity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


just a small sample of my voluminous stash

Update: since I'm closing the contest and drawing for it after midnight tonight, I thought I'd repost in case anyone else wants to get in on the action...

I have finally sent off the special custom socks to the winners of my last contest, and now have a hankering to hold another one!

Today I kick off my Six Months without Shopping, and in honor of this hopeful endeavor I am going to dig into my massive stash of fancy and colorful yarns for the latest prize.

The prize: winner's choice--either a cozy scarf made out of some lovely natural fiber, or a set of ball-band dishcloths, knitted just for you. I have such a huge stash that the winner can probably choose a color and I'm willing to bet I have it on hand!

How to enter: just leave a comment on this post by midnight of tonight (Tuesday October 6). I will number the comments and hold a random drawing.

That's it! I hope you'll enter. You can be from any part of the world; I'm not picky.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

In Honor of Love

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. Thirteen years married, but nearly 19 years together from the first kiss to this moment. In honor of love, here are some of my favorite couples; friends, lovers, requited, unrequited, thrilled, longing--obsessed, in thrall, in sympathy, in love, in like--persevering, I've found all of these things with Sarge over the last two decades.

Laura & Almanzo,
Severus & Lily,
Thompson & Thomson,
Eva & Max,
and us

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Yom Kippur came and went, with its dizzying fast and its 10 hours of synagogue services (you read that correctly), and afterwards the communal break-fast at which we discovered not three, not five, but a total of eight different kugels, a wealth of kugels (nothing like a heavy starchy noodle pudding to bring you solidly back from the sacred to the everyday).

Each year, the Day of Atonement is a strange mixture of sad and joyful, heavy and light, boredom and uplift. Your body drags in the late afternoon, your stomach grumbles, and by the ninth hour if you are human, then you are cranky--but the songs, the prayers, the sharp notes of the shofar can sometimes have the power to force you through your physical discomfort to a good place, dare I say a godly place--

During my best moments in synagogue, my soul was light--like this runaway kite, escaped from the hands that held its string, flying higher and higher toward an approaching storm--

and then it was all over for another year, and there was the kugel waiting stolidly, patiently for us to land.

and p.s. don't forget to visit my contest, below!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The U.N. is in session, the East Side of Manhattan is packed and rerouted and swarming with official cars, angry cabs, rushing pedestrians, and the usual delivery trucks blocking what few lanes remain open. So I choose to drive my little grey Toyota right into the thick of it, in the middle of rush hour, to take Hedgehog to a dentist appointment that could better have been reached by subway.

Me? I guess I'm just a thrill-seeker, more now even than I was at 20. At 39 years old, I have two outlets left for this feeling that pulls me outward: driving, and writing. The writing is good, I can be anywhere and anyone I want to be on the page. But facing Manhattan down is a whole other happiness and freedom. The streets and highways of midtown are my special place. All around me is chaos, but at the wheel I'm in total control. I mean total. I'm weaving to avoid the traffic cops and cones, fearlessly merging, honking at the guy who thrusts his baby carriage in front of me, the cab that cuts me off. I'm safe, of course, but bold in a way I would never have to be, just walking down the street pushing my shopping cart full of dinner groceries. For just a few minutes there, today, I owned Second Avenue between 57th and 34th.

What a feeling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Happy New Year to All!

L'Shanah Tovah!

To all my friends--may your year be sweet and full of joy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Amigurumi Interlude

I'm off to work again on projects, and will return anon!

In the meantime I leave my little amigurumi cat friend to watch over the blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16

I haven't been able to bring myself to post over Sarge's 9-11 post. I'm feeling extra sad around this year's anniversary, for lots of reasons. I learned some things about Sarge's experience that I hadn't known before. Reading his story was a little window into a place I'd never been. It only served to remind me that I can't always protect the people I love most in the world. I can't protect Hedgehog, and I can't protect my husband either. It's a scary, sad revelation, one I've had often before but never as strongly as I did when I read that 9-11 story.

Sarge can take care of himself, of course. He's done it in that and even worse situations.

Still, when you love people that much, you wish you could be there with them, holding their hand as they go through the bad parts. I know that on September 11, my place was at home with my baby, taking care of her while Sarge went out to do his job as he had to; and later, my job was to make a cozy, safe place for him to come home to when the work was over. But it never seemed like I did enough. I guess I'm feeling guilty too--a pointless but inescapable emotion that I haven't been able to rationalize away, not in all these years.

Meanwhile, Hedgehog started third grade. It feels like a milestone, and I had planned on interviewing her again as I did last year, but my heart just wasn't in it and finally she fumed "Mama, these questions are half-baked!" and huffed off. I'll try again...

Friday, September 11, 2009

That Day

It seems to me that some things don't get easier with the passage of time; 9/11 is one such event. I asked Sarge to tell something about his experience of September 11, 2001, and this is what he remembered.

It doesn't matter why I was there, or what I was doing. You'll have to take my word that I had work to do and the work was there. I could be a doctor, nurse, pipe fitter, steel worker, clergyman, heavy equipment operator, firefighter, cop, EMT/paramedic, truck driver, engineer, public utility worker, federal agent, soldier, transit worker. Maybe I work for FEMA, or NYC OEM, the NTSB, the FAA, the Salvation Army, or the EPA. Maybe I am a DMORT team member (and if you've never heard that acronym and have no idea what it stands for, be very glad). It doesn't matter what I do. I did not run in as others ran out, nor vice versa. I walked in many hours later. My team and I were held back until just before sunset.

Here are a few things I remember about that night.

When we entered the plume, it was weird. I recognized the smell. To me, from a distance of about a mile and a half out, it smelled exactly like the chemical smoke we used to use in the Army, not the colored smoke, the white concealment smoke.

At Park Row and Chambers St. a guy was handing out fiber filter masks to everyone who passed. I have no idea who he was. That kind of mask wasn't going to be very effective in that situation, but I guess they were better than nothing.

Walking east along Chambers approaching Broadway, there were shoes everywhere. I mean dozens of pairs. Why? Where did they come from? Who did they belong to? Did groups of firefighters responding from their homes gear up at that location, leaving their shoes when they put on their bunker pants? Sometimes I wonder what happened to the shoes.

Chambers and Broadway was sort of the northwest corner of the NYPD's inner perimeter that first night. When I got there, a group of very tired looking police officers from Brooklyn relieved a group of totally exhausted looking ash-covered police officers from Manhattan. The sergeant from the Brooklyn precinct, who looked like a smaller version of Captain MacAfee from Mad Max, talked to the Manhattan sergeant, but other than that there was no interaction between the groups which seemed strange. I think the Brooklyn cops were just respecting the utter weariness of the Manhattan cops.

That intersection was a very busy place. ORP is a military term It stands for Objective Rally Point, and it's basically the last place you stop (to get your shit together, do a leader's recon, make any changes to your plan, whatever) en route to an objective. Quite a few people from different agencies were using the area around that intersection as a sort of ORP.

A National Guard platoon formed up there and then deployed to different locations.

There were also three or four members of the Rutgers University Police at that spot.

Some FBI Special Agents tried to get in and were almost turned back when the one doing the talking showed a cop his badge. If you've never seen an FBI badge, they're tiny. They look like miniature badges, incongruous, sort of, well, fake. ID cards were soon displayed and all was well, though the FBI folk may have been a wee bit hurt at having their badges referred to as "mini-shields."

There was another reason there was so much activity at that location. Church Street was pretty much impassible to vehicles. Greenwich and West Broadway ended at Barclay, but they were screwed up as routes in and out when 7 WTC collapsed. So Broadway and West Street were the best roads in and out. Vehicles heading to the site mostly came in on Broadway and exited somewhere else. There was a surprising volume of traffic. Transit Authority trucks bearing names like "Iron North" and "Third Rail" came through. NYC Housing Authority trucks with the names of the housing development they were assigned to passed through. I think I remember seeing "Walt Whitman" "Langston Hughes" "Samuel J. Tilden" "Louis Pink."

Fire trucks from other areas, mostly Long Island, came through. I saw a massive caterpillar-tracked crane pass, a cop sitting on top directing the driver, it reminded me of pictures I'd seen of "erks" (I think that was the term) sitting on the wings of RAF planes in the Western Desert, directing the pilots as they taxied. I thought that crane might tear itself to bits before it got to the pile, those things are really not meant to be driven the distance it had been driven, but the crane operator seemed determined to get his machine where it was needed, where it could do some good.

Medical personnel were directed to staging areas elsewhere, as were volunteers with construction skills.

A Greek Orthodox priest accompanied by a young man and a young woman came up to the check point and introduced himself to an officer:

Priest: I'm Father N__ from Saint Nicholas. I'm here to check on the church.
Cop: I'm sorry, Father, I can't let you in. It's too dangerous.
Priest: I'm not afraid. I should check the church.
Cop (quietly): You can't check the church Father.
Priest: But why?
Cop (deep breath): Because it's not there anymore.
silence, then
Priest: Well, okay, but maybe I could help the injured.
Cop: There aren't any.
Then the cop turned away and the Priest and the young people left. If the cop seemed a little brusque to you reading this it's because you couldn't hear his voice or see his face as he talked. I think maybe he was trying not to cry.

Two Salvation Army ladies came by with a cooler full of sandwiches. Was it just my imagination, or were they wearing bonnets and cloaks, the way I remember Salvation Army ladies from my childhood? In any case, they went where they thought they were needed, and did what they thought they could.

There was one portable light generator at the intersection and as you walked south you were soon in darkness. The power was out in that part of Manhattan. Once you got south of the open space at City Hall Park, once you were back between tall buildings it got really black. There was no artificial light, except for small pools around light generators (and on that night very few were in place), almost no natural light, because of the canyon effect and the smoke.

We shined our flashlights down one of the side streets and saw all these little blue blobs. There by a derelict fire truck we found what had obviously been a temporary triage site. The blue blobs were gloves. The medics must have gone through hundreds of pairs at that location before they had to pull back. They were all over the street in the ever thickening ash and dust.

We passed abandoned hotdog carts and fruit carts. There were some beautiful-looking mangoes on one with a half inch of dust on top looking like some sort of frosting.

Walking west on Dey St (I think) I can only compare that darkness to night under triple-canopy jungle.

And there we were at Ground Zero. And where the hell were the towers? I mean, where was the wreckage, the debris? Okay sure there's a big pile there, but that can't be two 110 story buildings worth. Where did it all go?

The noise low air alarms from Scott airpacks seemed to come from all over. The ash was thick, thick, at least boot-top high on Church Street. Some places where water and ash had mixed, the sludge was even higher. If you got any of that crap on your shoes, you got a hotfoot when it dried, it heated up like concrete does as it cures. The ash made the graveyard behind St. Paul's chapel look almost like a winter scene, except for all the paper all over the place.

There was an unbelievable amount of paper littering the area. Weird how much paper "survived" intact. I picked up an undamaged "Pocono Homes Guide." Strangely it made me feel like crap. Here's some poor schmuck who was contemplating a 90 mile commute to give his family a better life (cause a single guy or gal is probably not moving to the Poconos). This is not a rich person (cause a rich person is probably not moving to the Poconos), this is just a regular person trying to make his or her way through the world, and, for the sin of being a responsible adult and dragging their ass out of bed and going to work at some crap job they get snuffed out just like that.

Also in St. Paul's graveyard was an old-fashioned water-filled fire extinguisher. It was just lying there, pristine. How did it get over the fence? Those things are heavy. If it fell shouldn't it have at least had a dent somewhere?

And across from the back of St. Paul's where I think the entrance to the parking garage used to be there was a "No Standing" sign completely undamaged while all around it was utter chaos and destruction. If you had been standing under that sign, you would have been all right; two feet away in any direction, dead. We moved on.

Later that night, I borrowed a ride north, I had been elected to get some coffee for the gang. We passed St. Vincent's hospital. There was a crowd of doctors and nurses standing at the Emergency entrance. I only saw them for a few seconds as we passed, and maybe it's me projecting my feelings but I knew with great certainty that they were Waiting. Waiting for casualties to come in. Waiting desperately to help, to be of use. As it turned out, and I think they knew, though they hoped it was not so, waiting almost utterly in vain.

I brought the coffee back and we worked through the night. I kind of wish I had written some of this stuff down when it first happened. It's not as clear as it was. Things fade, you know? But it doesn't matter. In another 50 years it'll be ancient history. Academics will know names like Rick Rescorla, "Red Bandana," "The Falling Man," and the others who had their "Kairos moments," made their choices, and acted how we would all hope to in similar circumstances, but few people will feel these events the way we do. "All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

Which just goes to show what an absolute science fiction nerd I am. If you needed any further proof, at one point during that night when I started to get a little freaked out and upset, I thought a particular phrase several times until I calmed down and laughed at myself. I thought "Day shall come again." Not so damning unless you know the source:

Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in his eye, and all the valiant Men of Hador were slain about him in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.

Last of all Hurin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield and wielded an axe two handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Hurin cried: "Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!"

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

At the Waning of the Green Hour

my lovely absinthe, posing obligingly in the late-afternoon sunlight

From mindful repentance to sweet excess, in the space of a few words...

Yes I know she's just glorified herby grain alcohol, but indulge me anyway as I slip on my shoulder-length gloves, arrange my bustle, and settle myself onto the chaise; glass, spoon, and sugar cube arrayed on the low table before me...

I'll be back here at the waning of the green hour...

Monday, September 7, 2009


Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, fast approaches, and with it comes the opportunity for t'shuvah (repentance and return to a higher standard of behavior). The concept of t'shuvah is, as with so many elements of Judaism, both simple and complex. One can make t'shuvah in the most straightforward way possible--thinking of one's wrongdoing over the past year, ruing those wrongs, and then righting them, or at least resolving to make them right. Or one can be radical in the approach to this exercise.

This year, I'm going to try for a more radical approach to repentance and return. I've been thinking a lot about my family's consumerist tendencies, from the moral, psychological, practical, and financial points of view. We have a great deal--more than we need. We buy a great deal--more than we need. We don't have a lot of money.

Into the thick of my musings comes Hedgie, who is currently obsessed with something she read about with her bubbe in the NY Times, about a family resolved to spend "a year without shopping," in which they didn't buy anything they didn't need for sustenance and survival. Hedgie was caught up in the adventure of it, mentioned it so often this summer that I finally took a hint that I think she was giving me.

So we've decided as a family to do this ourselves. We held a meeting to decide how long (we voted 6 months to begin with), whether there could be room for cheating (yes--Hedgie's birthday) and of course the most important question: what do we consider strictly necessary renewables, what just plain old unnecessary shopping?

It has been actually sort of fun to figure this out. Most things are obvious--no new clothes, new shoes, makeup, perfume, yarn, jewelry (me); toys or geegaws like comic books or gumball machine prizes (Hedgie); guitars (!) and magazines and cds (Sarge). No more roaming the aisles of Target and leaving with a package of Pokemon cards, new nailpolish, and fancy little notebooks. No more Sephora or Fresh, for new lip gloss or scented soap. No more little souvenirs of our trips to Chinatown or the museum. No new party dresses for Hedgie or myself. No manicures, no new tagine (how much do I want one of those things). We're going to put off the furniture upgrades for our living room, and the new kitchen flooring too. No new cell phones or electronic gadgets or accessories. When I lay out these purchases so baldly here, I think they seem completely wasteful. We really do have enough already. So, starting in a week and a half, whatever gets spent, gets spent on groceries and bills. No more recreational shopping, from the tiniest to the largest purchase.

The sort of sad thing is that I think it is going to take some adjustment, that I am so used to saying "yes" when Hedgie asks for something, even if money is stretched tight (which it usually is, these days). I'm so used to saying yes to myself, when I see a little trinket I like, or a new dress. But I'm already feeling a little lighter, knowing that we're going to have to say no. Living outside of our means, even a little, has just become too uncomfortable. Unnecessary spending is a habit I'm thrilled to break. And I'm tired of contributing to the credit house of cards that America has become. Not spending is, to me, a bit anarchic, a bit like sticking it to The Man.

I realize as I write this that there is a certain hypocrisy, a certain amount of posturing in taking a stand like this. I mean, I'm lucky to have the option to decide whether or not to give up frivolous spending. Still, when all is said and done, I just don't see how it could be a bad thing.

One little addendum here before I shut up: I totally support the right of anyone else to shop and enjoy it! I would never pass judgment--this is just something I think would be good for us personally.

and p.s. do you think daily take-away iced coffee is shopping? I hate to say that I do, but if anyone thinks otherwise, maybe I won't have to forgo it for the next 6 months...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Light

I was lying in bed with Sarge last night, having one of those conversations that people have, in bed, when they have been together a long long time and still like each other tremendously.

It was the kind of conversation that floats dreamily from mundane to teasing to serious to frankly existential. And then back again. The kind of conversation that begins with a query about whether the car insurance was paid, or what the hamster has been doing so secretively and industriously these past few nights, and ends with God or the finitude of the universe. The kind of conversation that might or might not last till first light, depending on so many things: how the threads are picked up and examined; whether provocative gambits are deployed and which ones gather response; depending on stamina--one might drift off while the other is still talking, a transgression always forgiven; depending on whether or not a light touch on a bare shoulder turns us from intellectual to purely corporeal and then helplessly to sleep...

But we have often over the years been surprised in mid-sentence by the first creeping tendrils of grey light, the first bursts of bird song.

"is it morning already?" I'll ask, amazed.

"We talked through the night!" he'll reply, and I can always feel a smile in his voice.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Filled up with a Feeling

At the dinner table yesterday, Hedgie was telling Sarge about our afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art.

Hedgie: We had lunch in the cafeteria, and I had the children's meal, a peanut butter banana and nutella panini and apple slices. There was just the right amount of nutella so that it oozed out the sides but not too much. And there were three slices of apple, and they were very crisp and sweet. They really know what children like. And we saw an exhibit called "Waste Not."

(We described the exhibit to Sarge and then Hedgie was silent)

Hedgie: Mama cried from it, while we were walking through. It's so embarrassing when you guys cry like that! Like how you cried, daddy, when you showed me that part of "Diva" with the opera singer.

(more silence)

Sarge: Do you know why grown-ups cry like that, Hedgie?

Hedgie: No.

Sarge: It's because we're filled up with a feeling we have--

Hedgie: and you have to let it out?

Sarge: Well, no, it just has to come out, even if we try to hold it in. Like laughter, it's the same thing. Sometimes it comes out as crying, sometimes as laughing. Just two different sides of a feeling that has to come out.

Hedgie: Why do you have the feeling?

Sarge: I don't know. Sometimes with a song or a piece of art, maybe it reminds us of another time or place, or a person who isn't with us anymore...

Hedgie: I guess I can understand that. But it's still embarrassing.

Filled up with a feeling--I so often am. I long ago gave up trying to hide honest tears from Hedgehog. I couldn't anyway, as Sarge says--sometimes it just has to come out.

here's the art that made me cry: "Waste Not" by Song Dong; also an explanation of the installation on the MOMA site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


With the fall of this year comes Hedgie's first cello lessons.

In my family this is one of the most important rites of passage, the day you play the first sweet and terrible notes of your very own instrument. I can barely remember the details of my first violin lessons--I was only five--but I do remember how timid and awestruck I was--the only feeling that has come close since was the first time I held baby Hedgie in my arms, afraid to break her. How heavy the quarter-size violin was in my little arms then, how amazing the alchemy of bow to string and then sound...although the little screeches and scritches must have been dreadful indeed to the ears of my patient listeners.

My violin has been with me on my journey for nearly 35 years now, a steadfast companion always, whether spurned or beloved, through all the times musically fallow and musically fertile. Its sturdy presence shielded me from the parodically cruel tendency of Emily, my second teacher, to discipline by rapping her own bow hard across my knuckles. It was the helpful wing-man in my pursuits of a proto-Severus, black-haired Peter with the glowing pallor, the first violin in my high school string quartet (how I quavered under his gaze as he reminded me, with a haughty little tip of his bow, to come in on the correct note). My violin and I spent long afternoons together in the music rooms of my college, and it never complained that I took frequent breaks to stare out the windows at the rain, at the trees changing to fall and then from fall to spring...

We have come all this way from our long-ago beginning. There it is in the corner now, waiting for the rosined bow and for me.