Post #76: Nothing Wasted

IMG_1409And so with the first glint of  sunlight I tip far forward, spilling out of the house, splashing on to the lawn.

I am splayed frishprayt like a squished sowbug, and as I lay in the grass my insides become  warmed as a lava cake, my fingers and toes crisping in the heat.   Then a quick spatula flip and I am flattened  on the taut top of my hammock, gently rolling back and forth,  lulled into the rhythms, dulled by the heat.

And then, I think of nothing, nothing at all.

I’ve spoken often of how hard all of us work.  How many demands—emotional, social, societal— are placed on each of us. Does anyone else have this awful sense of running in place? Or of being part of a race one doesn’t have a chance of winning? Or sometimes, of not even knowing what the race itself is about? 

For my whole life I’ve dreamed of having a mind that would leap and stretch with ideas but found myself mired in the day to day slog that would leave me spent and despairing. I was wasting my time, my life. I was sure of it.

It was my mother who told me years ago that nothing anyone ever does, no time is ever wasted.

She was right. 

One of the great joys of these writings over the past three years has been these ideas that keep percolating through my head.  They’ve percolated simply because I’ve given myself the opportunity to lay back in a hammock (or a lounge chair, or a bed or the floor if I have to) and simply relax, at least once every other week.  And think of nothing.  Because in thinking of nothing. all the experiences of a lifetime have found a way to surface.  Nothing wasted. I’ve grabbed them. I’ve embraced them.

None of us are on the same time schedule for creativity it seems.  And perhaps it is so, the best ideas come from rest, when one is thinking even when one doesn’t realize it.

So snatch those moments of respite!  A moment or two of calm.  Only then can we take a true measure of the world around us.

This post is dedicated with love and thanks to one of the most remarkable and creative women I’ve ever known, my mother,  Joyce Chudler Adelman.

Post #75: Let Us Eat Cake

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And so, Gentle Readers, we’ve come to one of those moments.  If you’ve been counting, as have I,  this is post number seventy-five.   A three year parade of every other Tuesday, posts, ticking around and around  like a baseball card in the spokes of a bike wheel.  One after another after another.  Should there be banners and fireworks and flag waving and please oh please oh please, oh hopefully cake?

Well sure, but if so not because this is anything really extraordinary.    If so only because I happen to like all of those things very much.  Especially so for the cake and most especially for lemon cocoanut cake.

In other words, Ladies and Gentlemen, if this blog is about anything at all it’s about celebrating not markers but moments:  being aware of them and appreciating them. Little moments, small memories, tiny observations.

I found myself on a very long journey yesterday, white knuckled fingers gripping the wheel from the helter skelter suburban sprawl of Orchard Lake Road and the interminable spin around the roundabouts to the the straight shot of Route 80 marking the hours, the milage, the minutes from the ubiquitous Ohio rest stops to  the Delaware Water Gap to the heart stopping Mario Kart swoop through the New Jersey Highway system to the truck-choked George Washington Bridge and finally home.  But it was a good trip.

It’s a five hundred mile road race I would undertake for only the best of reasons.  An important moment and an important number.  I was blessed to help celebrate my parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Thanks primarily to the efforts of my sisters, the support and love of husbands and grandchildren, the celebration was quietly perfect, as elegant as a flute of Veuve Cliquot.  The evening itself was a simple and special.  This for my quietly remarkable parents, people who love the people they love truly and deeply. They do not focus on special events but rather are concerned with making small moments special.  That, I think is one of their great gifts and perhaps the secret to their many wonderful years together.

For me, anyway, that’s the lesson from my parents.  it’s always been about the moments.  It’s about truly paying attention.

And when I thought about it, as I did as I stared down the straight shot of Route 80, squinting into the sun and trying not to be edged off the road by tandem trucks, I realized that in fact every one of these small bi-weekly missives have in fact been just that:  an effort to pay attention, a collection of moments.

Gathering them all together, whether I’m remembering my five-year old scurry up to the top of a sand dune or stopping to watch a tenacious bee reviving with a proboscis dip into a dot of honey, I’m giving myself a great gift. I’m simply stopping to think. 

When I look back at these seventy-five writings what I find is this phantasmagoria of moments, held together with the bi-weekly thrum of the posts.  If I look at the collection, as I surely will do soon, I’m certain to see patterns that I never knew existed.  And with luck, in those patterns  I’ll be able to see beyond just what I think I’ve been remembering, what I was certain I was seeing. Won’t that be something!

Like a cornucopia of pulsing, luminescent stars spilling across a velvety sky, my parents’ lifetime of connect the dot moments have knit us all together for always. We know how lucky we are.

So as I continue with these posts, I too want to see what’s beautiful, remember what was fizzy and fun, and connect with those that I love and those I’ve yet to meet.  For ultimately what else is there?

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned. celebrate any moments that suit you at any time. And of course, for those of you so inclined, that does in fact mean cake. Champagne, although optional, of course is always good too.

Thanks for coming along with me. As ever, with love, C

Post #74: Summer Swevens (Visions and Dreams)

IMG_1306SUMMER SWEVENS (VISIONS AND DREAMS)

It’s so early that somehow I expect the blackness to be heavy and  thick and inky dark. But it’s not. The trees are flat as black paper cutouts, a sfumato mist hovers in the air.  I shouldn’t be out of the house. But I am.

I find a soft tussock of grass and first touch it gingerly with my toes.  The plants are cool and vertiginous and pliant.   I hesitantly sit and then in a few more moments, luxuriously stretch out.  My eyes wink. Then they flutter. I remember.

***

The Sprinkler

Not to the lake. Not to the pool. Not to the pond.  Not for us! Pushing through the screen door, we are bathing suited, our bare feet burning on the pavement. Hot enough to fry an egg on it?  Should we try?  Jump on the grass where it’s cool then!

We squeal as suddenly a waterfall of what feels like icy tears cascades from above, pelting and peppering us.  Just as quickly the jit jit jit of water arcs back and above, hitting the cherry tree with spray before coming around to us once more.  We are like the tigers at the circus leaping bravely through flaming hoops!   Jump in, jump out, jump in!

Wrapped tight in damp towels, double-sticked grape popsicles clutched in our fingers, our tongues proudly, and perhaps permanently, purple.

***

The Ice Cream Truck

Did you hear it? I heard it!  Run run run! 

Arrive with your dollar clutched wet and tight in your fist.  Wait and wait and wait. Will it ever be my turn? My turn!  With a satisfying katchoonk! the tiny door opens and a whoosh of arctic blasts us back almost across the street.   Bold as Robert Peary himself, the white shirted ice cream man nonchalantly thrusts in his arm into the cold, chips away at the ice floes and pulls out buried treasure:  King Cones, Chocolate Eclairs, Strawberry Shortcakes, and Eskimo Pies.

Solemnly I hand him my doubloon in exchange for real jewel.

***

Riding Bikes

Like a velvet toppered Olympic equestrian, I am tall in the saddle, proudly astride my green, banana-seat Schwinn.  Around and around the circular drive, faster and faster and faster.  This is fine, but you and I  have a plan, don’t we?  You hop on the bike, I’ll clip on the roller skates. Tie the jump rope to the back bar and around and around and around, swing free, swing fast, swing out!  DO. NOT. LET. GO.  But of course,  I do!

***

Our Pool

A run and a leap and a flying cannon ball right  from the board, stretching high enough to touch the trees.  There is a moment—just a moment!—where I’m sure that I’m truly taking off, a hovering second before I plunge deep dark and down to the very bottom.  My eyes open with a start.  How could I be here?  I was sure I could, I knew I could, I thought I could fly.

My head bursts through the surface, water streaming from my nose. But when I breathe in I am  suffused by the alluring scent of hot dogs hissing and splitting their casings as the roast on the grill.  Add mustard and onions and chips.  Sneak bites of brownies from the bottom of the freezer.  Orange soda, red pop, or rock ’n rye?

My Dad says, “Get me a cold one.” I do, adding  ice to his glass of beer.

***

Sparklers

The day drags on thick and hot as pot of pea soup.   But for once, we don’t want it to linger.  For this we need the night.  Hour after hour we wait,  the air scorching and the hot sun pressing against us.  Eight thirty and then nine? Is it dark?  When will it ever ever be dark enough? 

Count three stars in a sky that spreads wide like an ear to ear grin and it’s finally time.  Hold out your hand and it’s solemnly lit.  With a sibilant swish, a crackle, a blaze and the sparkler lights up, a universe igniting in my hand.

Over too soon. Another!  Oh please!  And another!

***

Slowly I open my eyes. The light is edging the sky, becoming soft, changing everything around me imperceptibly but surely, as it is with growing children.  I hear the first tweet of the early morning. A robin.  I see her as she caroms around the trees, swooping and gliding, a skater on air. A ruffle of leaves and she’s momentarily disappeared.  Inside the bush her hungry babies wait in a nest she’s carefully  lined with twigs and feathers. I glance at my house, one I’ve lined with words and books.

It’s time.

A fantasia of early morning spreads like a fan to cool the rising heat of day. Like a  sunflower, my face follows the golden orb as it moves across the sky.  I sigh. Because at last, at long last, once again, it’s summer.

Much warmth and happiness to you all.

Post #73: KATASCOPOS

IMG_1238The dream, of course, was always in place.   A tiny wooden fortress, a look out, safely nestled in the branches.   A rope ladder to be shimmied and then quickly hoisted aloft. At last I’m here!  In my dreams my knees curl talon tight around a branch.  I am an owl, solid and solitary amidst my branches quiet, contemplative and ever so watchful. My eyes grow wide and my heart swells.  A sharp intake of breath.  The world is spread before me as a summer picnic, soft and ripe and full as a sun warmed peach. I feel I can reach out and touch it, yet the distance flattens and somehow makes the whole feel close. I am up and above and at one with the world.

So many years later but in a way,  I am finally here up high, enrobed clouds.  There is no rope ladder but still this little room is stilted upon a high perch, walls of windows welcoming the world outside, framing images that continuously dart and swirl  like a pinwheel.  I am level with the crowns of the surrounding trees but in their majesty there is no sense of kingly distain.  Their gnarled arms reach out, surround and embrace me. I am soaring, sweeping through the air! The wind ruffles the leaves like butterflies tethered to their perch.  I always crave that arboreal embrace.

If I stay very still I can feel the trembles from a susurus of sound,  layers of hum one on top the other, of birds, of insects, even the somehow comforting lull of distant traffic, rising up to my perch.

This is where I want to be.

In his lyrical introduction to the equally exquisite The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, naturalist and writer Robert Macfarlaine speaks of katascopos, a Greek word referring to the supremely lucky “looker downers” who possess the view reserved only for the gods—or the birds.  Or those who scramble up mountain peaks.  Or perhaps those who dream of  perching in tree houses.

I don’t think of this as an omnipotent god-like view at all. Rather it feels remarkably generous and expansive to see all spread before me, the view wide and  open and limitless.  This is not just what I want to see. It’s what I want to feel.

But soon enough I’ll descend once again from up high, gather up my papers and books and bags, to trudge through my day, jangled and jinked.

So to the question: how can one’s spirits soar while one’s feet remain rooted firmly to the ground?  The answer, like some of the most beautiful things, is both clear and simple.

Quietly look and see.   Quietly listen and hear.

Instead of seeing the leaves shiver and tremble in anticipation of a coming storm  I’ll try to catch the momentary blink of uncertainty that shades someone’s face before they speak.

Instead of struggling to discern the tweets and twitters of the early rising birds, I’ll try to truly focus on each word someone is saying instead of silently formulating my own wished for witty response.

What will I learn, what will I hear that I otherwise might miss?  If I try, can I then bring my marvelous treehouse down to earth, the most beautifully wondrous aspects of katascopos to the every day? 

Perhaps!

Post #72: More Than a Nibble

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THE FIRST FANCY PLACE

I am starched, white gloved and frilled.  Neatly tied into a dress with bows, anklet socks precisely  turned, Mary Jane’s patented and shining.  Lifted to my seat in the restaurant I  am perched on a pedestal of telephone books.  A tiny empress, surveying the gleaming forks and knives and spoons. What is the right thing to do?   I have no idea. Terrified, I sit so still. 

A single question, “Do I like tuna fish?”   I nod carefully. Is “yes” the right answer?  Lunch is ordered.   In a blur a black jacketed waiter flourishes a plate in front of me with the insouciant panache of a bullfighter flicking his red cape. Is this my lunch?  My sandwich is sliced into into beautiful little triangles and stacked three stories high on a mountain of potato chips.  Do I eat it or stare at it?  I don’t know.  Then I spot it at the edge of the plate.   A tiny paper cup filled with mashed potatoes.  At last, something I recognize!  In a rush all at once I squeeze the whole thing into my mouth.

And my eyes brim with tears.

Alas.  Horseradish!

***

MITCH’S

Growing up in the Motor City one’s life is simply guided by cars. We Motor City folk cruise Woodward, glide up and down the hills of Maple, bump over the potholes of Orchard Lake.   We don’t just drive to get places. We drive to drive. We drive the rippling  highways and byways of our state, The Big Mitten, but in truth we are always dreaming of skimming by the shore. It’s not hard to do. Wherever you are in Michigan you are no more than six miles from a lake and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Ones.   We Michiganders are happily waterlogged.

If the salty Atlantic imparts a certain tang to Eastern Clam Chowder than I’ll argue that being squeezed between Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior impart a certain freshness to our foodstuffs.

So after lazy Sunday afternoon car rides we invariably would end at Mitch’s on the lake.  Which lake?  I never knew.  But my Dad would slide the gigantic Oldsmobile into parking lot, crank down the windows for those of us sweltering in the back seat, and then disappear into the vast and bustling restaurant.  After a few minutes he would emerge with a wonderfully greasy bag of Mitch’s special soft breadsticks, hot from the oven, dripping with butter,  sprinkled liberally with salt. They were gone by the time we reached our front door.   At the table we ate plate after plate of Mitch’s special salad.  The recipe for the dressing is still a mystery.  But no matter.

Seven o’clock and  time for The Wonderful World of Disney!

***

HOWARD JOHNSON’S

Skip breakfast.  Skip lunch.  Skip dinner. 

Crowd into the hand me down Pinto, the Gremlin, or the Opal Manta. Careen down Lone Pine on the way to the corner of Telegraph and Maple. Spot that gleaming orange roof from a mile away!

Scoot into a booth. Squeeze in tight.  The waitress taps her pencil on her pad. “What’ll it be?”

“FUDGE RIPPLE  with strawberry sauce, extra whipped cream!”

“BUTTERCRUNCH  with butterscotch topping, marshmallow, double cherries!”

PEPPERMINT with hot fudge, pistachios,  pineapple and sprinkles!”

Enormous goblets filled with ice cream and sauce overflowing are placed before each of us. A conspiratorial click of silver spoons and we begin!

Afterwards a plate (or two) of french fries, the perfect palate cleanser,  for all to share. 

***

STEVE’S LUNCH

Really it’s  little more than a slice of a place.  Just enough room to squeeze through the door and pull yourself up to a red counter stool.  Twirl meditatively while checking the menu but really for naught. The order is always going to be the same. 

“Cheese and bean sprout omelet, please.”

The order is taken with a swift nod. Then the counterman swirls the eggs in a bowl and gently spreads them on the grill.   A shovel of hash browns fills the whole of an oblong platter and with a few quick flicks of his wrist the omelet is filled then folded with an origami like precision and placed delicately on top.

Since nothing could possibly ever match this for perfection, no need to eat for a week.

***

CAMMERARI’S BAKERY

You could almost eat the smell. But that isn’t nearly enough.  Walking down the streets of Carroll Gardens, if you are lucky enough to catch the scent, your nose starts twitching like a pup who had caught the aroma of a grilled steak.  Breathe and breathe in deep.  It is invigorating, exhilarating, blissful.   I am swept along the streets of Brooklyn bleary and floating,  then joyously flying through  air like a girl in a Chagall.   And suddenly I am there. Right on Henry Street at the window of Cammerari’s Bakery. 

I press my nose to the glass.  Living paycheck to paycheck, I have only two dollars. But here at Cammerari’s  that’s more than enough. In a moment, crinkled bills are on the counter and soon a whole loaf of warm bread is cradled in my arms.

I sigh happily. Once again,  I will be full.

***

The memory of these—and so many other—wonderful places are still sweet and rich on my tongue.  I savor them. With love especially to all who’ve broken bread or shared a scoop with me.

photograph copyright Edible East Bay Magazine

Post #71: Shehechyanu Moments

FullSizeRenderAnxious and jittered I shudder through my days, fizzed and cocktail shakered from top to bottom. Splash me out into an iced goblet, gussy me up with a speared pimento’d olive, a square of sugar, a paper parasol. Ready to go.

Right the ship. Hold fast. Steady on.

I cling to my books like talismans and like life preservers. I carry them from room to room, sleep with them under my pillow, hide them in my purse. Richard Jefferies, Mary Webb, W.H. Hudson. Jean-Henri Fabre. Like a hummingbird dipping it’s beak full of floral nectar, a line or two gleaned as I wait for the morning announcements. a page absorbed while standing in line for a sandwich. A few more inhaled as I wait for a train.

Then too I peep through windows, hoping to catch a sparkling glimpse. Leaves shimmying on their branches undulating with the wind? An elegant caddis fly hovering just out of reach? The shiver of air left by a bird in flight?

A few moments. Just enough. But never enough.

In the classroom we talk about Marcus Aurelius, the man who so beautifully explains himself to himself in Meditations. The book that was never meant to be read has been read a million times over, over the centuries. Do your duty honestly and faithfully. Be virtuous. Aim for tranquilly. Live— and live for the moment.

To be aware and in the moment is essential, as we steer our course. But to remember? We have the right I think to choose our moments. To grab at the happy ones, allowing the others to recede and creep back to the shadows, leaping from peak to peak and from joy to joy.

Once upon a time I had a favorite prayer, one I only heard once a year. First night of Chanukah, the third prayer. The gorgeous chant for that prayer always made my heart soar and my spirit sing.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the Shehechyanu is not meant for just once a year.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all:
for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.*

This season, or this moment in time. Or in other words, one is blessed to recite the Shehechyanu at so many happy moments in life. At a holiday that comes around once again. When you see a friend that you haven’t seen in such a long time. When someone you love achieves something never achieved before.

Life is filled with Shehechyanu moments waiting to be experienced and savored again and again. Here’s wishing for many Shehechyanu moments for each of us.

*translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org

In honor of JRF

Post #70: Spectacles

FullSizeRenderThe world was a watercolor wash of cerulean, sapphire and emerald, the blurred edges soft, entrancing, embracing. Ever shifting in the light there was so much to look at, so much to see! The tops of trees blended into sky, houses undulated into lawns, sidewalks dreamily rolled and buckled and puckered under my regal gaze. Were things near or far? Hard or soft? I didn’t know. I didn’t mind. I moved slowly. Why rush? The world was a kaleidoscope of softness, the lines beautifully and comfortably blurred.

When I was seven my father the optometrist gently curled the arms of a pair of spectacles around my ears and took a step back. A blink. A sharp intake of breath. And my world jumped sharply into jangly focus. I could see.

But that other world was still there and I knew it. If I took off my glasses I could still see it.
***
Unquestionably it was one of my oddest assignments. And yet, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

At last we had reached my long longed for moment: the tour jete leap, high, higher, highest from the heart stopping canvasses of Cezanne, and his explosively condensed blots of color that led to the rocket launch into twentieth century painting and beyond. How could I explain the brilliance of one who did not impose his vision on the world so much as unmask the visual world itself?

I had only a few heartbeats left of class time. So there was only one thing to do.

The assignment: I sent them all outside.

Walk and walk alone. No earbuds or other electronic distractions. Just look closely at the world around you. See the familiar in an unfamiliar way. See whatever it is that there is to see.

Give one one photograph seeing something in a way you’ve never seen it before. Give me one paragraph describing your experience.

Fifteen minutes to relearn a lifetime of visual experience? See the world anew? Absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous.

And yet…

The assignments trickled in, slowly at first and then tumbling over each other like school children finally released from the classroom on a hot May afternoon.

—“The grass seemed to get greener the longer I looked at it.”

—“The sky glowed with streaks of pink!”

— “I looked and suddenly my street was a mass of angles and curves.”

Is the world as it is or is it remade anew viewed through our own individual lenses? What do each of see when we really see? Go and look. Outside, through the window the world is waiting for us, to be discovered and rediscovered again and again.

***

PS For a fascinating look at vision through the eyes of a child, find Ellen Raskin’s marvelous  and beautifully illustrated Spectacles.  And if you like puzzles and mysteries, you might like her Newbery winning The Westing Game as well.