Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goodbye, Joy


Joy is the dog we used to have in joint custody.

A year or so ago we noticed that she was getting really skinny. A slender dog by nature, it didn’t take much for her hipbones to stick out. I talked with her owners about it, and they said they had noticed too and were trying to feed her more often.

Luca and I got in the habit of giving her an extra meal whenever we walked her. We worried that things had gotten too busy in her home and (wrongly) suspected that they were sometimes forgetting to fill her dish.

Despite her rib cage showing, Joy was always incredibly happy and bouncy. Even at four she acted like a 6-month-old puppy. Which is why we never thought she could be sick.

We then found out that she had a kidney problem that she had been born with, and that she didn’t have very long to live. While heartbroken, we took comfort in the fact that she had an amazing life.

Joy was finally put down this week. No more tearing across the mountains at the speed of light. No more jumping out of her skin with excitement at the sight of us.

I’m sure glad I got to meet her and be her friend.


Photo: www.kooldogkafe.com

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The banana


I’m reading a book by Dan Koeppel that is so fascinating, I cannot help but regularly interrupt my husband’s reading to share excerpts with him.

The book is about bananas, and you just have to read it.

A banana tree is not a tree, it’s an herb. The banana you eat today is not the banana your grandmother ate when she was little, because that banana was destroyed by blight and another type of banana was created to replace it.

Bananas are seedless. They are sexless. They cannot reproduce without humans. They all look the same because you are eating genetic twin (a clone) of a banana. Bananas are particularly susceptible to disease because what makes one banana sick wipes out all bananas, and the banana you know and love is at risk of ceasing to exist.

Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. And, bananas cost less, despite the fact they are grown in tropical countries and shipped across oceans and apples are grown within hours of most large cities in the United States. You have no idea the amount of things that have gone into making this possible. I have no idea why this question (how is this possible?) didn't occur to me before.

For bananas, jungles and rain forests have been cleared and governments have been toppled. They have transformed cultures. And, it’s very likely that the banana was the forbidden fruit Eve could not resist.

I will never again take for granted anything in my fruit bowl.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Resolution for 2010


Kindle is a modern day Trojan Horse – disguised as a reading device for book lovers, it’s really a buying device for book addicts. The pull is impossible to resist.

I walk into a bookstore, say, at the airport, look at books that intrigue me and download samples as I walk around. I get on the plane and read them; deleting the ones I don’t want, keeping the ones I do to buy “later” (the more honest word is “soon”.)

Or, a friend recommends a book and instead of making a note of it I immediately download it, feeling giddy.

Or, I’m in my Sunday spot (my sofa) reading book reviews, downloading recommended books that interest me. I feel, in words of my friend Victor, like King Midas.

I can own any book in the world in seconds without ever leaving my house. I don’t even have to turn on my computer. And it doesn't feel like a purchase. It feels like....well, a download.

Just last Saturday I bought five books in less than two minutes. Maybe my eyes were wide and I was cackling maniacally.

In sum, it’s gotten completely out of hand.

I therefore present you with my New Year’s resolution for 2010: to read at least 50% of the books on my Kindle before I can buy any more.

If you want to give me a book, however, I can’t stop you.

Photo: painting by Giandomenico Tiepolo, wikipedia

Monday, November 30, 2009

The wisdom of Antonio Banderas

I never, ever talk to people on planes. I’m the one who pretends to read or sleep - anything to avoid becoming someone’s captive audience.

I’m sitting on my seat and looking out the window and thinking, “we’ll never take off, because it’s snowing too much.” And I turn and see this guy. I feel like I already know him and that’s what I’m thinking when I realize he’s talking to me and I’m not listening.

“You’re sitting in my place” he says, possibly for the third time.

“Impossible” I think. “He doesn’t know I wouldn’t do that”.

I pull out my boarding pass and realize that when I sat down, I looked at the row (13) and completely disregarded the letter (F). My actual seat is clear on the opposite side, my suitcase is snug in the overhead bin and because of a full flight there is no remaining space. If I move, I’ll have to check my bag or leave it where it is and wait for everyone to disembark to retrieve it.

So J and I become allies in my predicament. He looks down the aisle, keeping an eye out for people getting too close to where we are sitting and when someone finally, inevitably comes to claim the place I’m in I say “I’m travelling with my friend and we wonder if you mind sitting in my assigned seat”. (He half-heartedly, yet graciously nods and saunters off. Phew.)

I end up being right about the snow. We stay on the runway for almost two hours while the (old) plane is de-iced and checked. I barely register the delay, because J and I are talking. About notebooks and what we write in them (he likes them blank, I prefer them lined.) The lists we make. What we consider noteworthy, and how we take notes. We offer one another quick glances at the secrets that we scribble, not to read but rather to appreciate the esthetics of the annotated page. We talk about books in general, then specific titles we recommend (we both write it all down, naturally.)

We talk about movies. Art and some of the artists we like. Languages. Words. We talk about love, and our demands on it. About the importance of having clear priorities. About being alone. We talk about silence. About god. We talk about politics. We talk about our parents, and our upbringing. Most of all, we talk about food.

A two and a half hour flight ends up taking more than four hours, and when we land, I’m kind of bummed. J walks around the airport with me helping me find Luca, and we wave goodbye.

I never thought I’d quote Antonio Banderas, but he makes a good point. If you never talk to strangers, you’ll never make any friends.

Photo: www.moleskineus.com

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Be careful who you love



Last year, as we watched American Idol, I told my husband that I loved him with nearly all my heart.

“Nearly?” he asked, barely ruffled.

“Well, a little piece of it belongs to David Cook. Did you not just hear his rendition of Billie Jean?”

Flash forward to a bit over a year later. I'm standing in line to board a flight to Denver. I turn to my left and see a familiar face. He's talking to what I'm going to assume is his band, and...I can't for the life of me remember his name.

I call Luca. “Hon” I say “Quick. What’s the name of that guy who won American Idol – or maybe came in second – that I used to love? You know, when I told you a piece of my heart belonged to him?”

Luca replies immediately. “Oh, yes. Adam Lambert.”

“No, no” I say. “That was this year. And yes, I did say that my heart belonged to – anyhow, last year. The guy last year.”

“Ummm. I don’t know. Where are you? Have you boarded?”

“Luca, please! I need to know! Help me!”

“Ok. I’m looking it up. Ah! David Cook?”

“Yes!” I say “David Cook! He’s standing right next to me! I gotta to go.”

I hang up the phone and turn to look at David Cook. He looks at me. Our eyes lock (really). I mouth the (profound) words “David. Cook.” He nods. I say “You rock.” “He bows and graciously says “thank you”. He walks away.

That’s when I realize that there is a little piece of my heart that is quite fickle. As I turn to board the plane I call my husband back. “I am going to miss you” I say. “And I love you so much”.

“Yes” he says, with what I’m sure is a little smile. “I know.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tips on being a parent (from someone who isn't)

The toughest job in the world has got to be being a parent.

The first time this became clear to me I was around fourteen. A friend and I were talking about the completely dysfunctional, often clueless, downright weird things mothers and fathers do. In monotone and with her gaze fixed on the horizon, she confided what hers had inflicted upon her. “My parents love each other so much that I always come in second”.

That’s when it hit me – no matter what you do, you’re going to screw up your kids. (My hope is that you find this oddly liberating.)

In the past few weeks, for a variety of reasons related more to their circumstances than to my experience, friends have asked my opinion in matters of parenting, specifically as it relates to divorce. I thought I’d put together my list of top four amateur recommendations (I repeat, “amateur”. To be perfectly clear I’m not only not a professional; I’m not even a parent.)

1. Don’t make decisions based on what is good for your children. Make decisions based on what is good for you. (This doesn’t mean “completely disregard what is important to them". It means “put yourself first, them immediately second.”) I know this sounds unforgivably selfish. But kids learn by example. Teach them to be happy by being happy rather than exposing them to parents who are always torn, confused, angry or resentful. (Don’t know if you should be a stay at home mom or go back to work? Should you stay in your marriage for your kids? See above.)

2. Examine what is driving the choices you are making. Is it love or is it guilt? If the force is guilt, don’t do it. Guilt is corrosive and nothing good ever comes of it.

3. Change is good. It feels terrible and scary and confusing and nobody really likes it, but it’s quite possibly the only thing in life that you can be certain you’ll get a lot of. So many (wonderful, loving) parents strive to raise their children in a Stable Environment. I ask you – how can a kid become a person resilient to change is all they have ever known is stability? I’m not saying, “please mess up their lives”. I’m saying that if you mess up yours and feel you’re dragging them along for the ride, they will be OK.

4. Be honest. Maybe don’t be explicit, but do tell the truth. If your 8 year old walks in on the immediate aftermath of a screaming, raging fight and asks wide-eyed “what’s going on?” and your reply is “oh, absolutely nothing, honey, everything is peachy! ” you’re not protecting her. You’re teaching her that she can’t trust the most basic, most fundamental of all navigation tools: her own intuition.

Besides, kids know everything. Every. Thing. They might not fully understand it, or be able to articulate it, but they know. They know you have secrets, that you hide things from them, even that sometimes you’d love to get away from them. They don’t tell you that they know because they are trying to protect you too.

Photo: www.realsimple.com

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2 (day of the dead)

I imagine Luca’s grandfather, Carlo, in front of the television set, engrossed in a soccer game. From the sofa, his leg kicks an imaginary ball, like a reflex. He yells instructions at the players. I picture other bits of his life: he goes to work in a gray suit and black briefcase, comes home every night for dinner, sits at the table and slices a piece of cheese for his grandson. With a wink (he was a man of few words) they agree not to tell his parents that he’s snacking before a meal.

Carlo’s wife loved him. He died 15 years ago, leaving her to survive in a world without him. (She turns 100 next year. The last time I saw her, she was furious at him. “What did he leave me here to do?”)

His grandson loved him too. Carlo left an indelible mark on Luca, who today sits in front of the television set, engrossed in a soccer game. He yells instructions at the players. I often believe Carlo is sitting beside him, wholeheartedly agreeing that, yes; Balotelli is indeed behaving like an ass.

http://www.mexicolore.co.uk

Monday, October 26, 2009

Make me a word

Have you ever heard of the word schadenfreude? It’s defined as “the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” I’ve often felt that I needed more complex words to more accurately express my feelings.

Jeffrey Eugenides, in his brilliant book Middlesex, says it best:

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness”, “joy” or “regret”. Maybe the best proof that language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster”. Or “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy”. I'd like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in the middle age”. I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar”. I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Berth

I need space not a room or a house but a swath of the milky way not a backyard a national park not elbow room dream room not a puddle an ocean not a line in the sand the split of land from sky I need my eyes to see as far as they can I don’t know how someone so small can need something so big but I do

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The key

I have an odds and ends drawer with rubber bands and matchboxes and birthday candles multicolored thumbtacks and an eraser white perfectly rectangular a black permanent marker and coins from other countries paper clips I found a key in there I plan to keep who knows when I’ll come across something I need to figure out how to open

Photo: www.digitaldesktopwallpaper.com

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It doesn't matter

It doesn’t really matter all the things I remember how my father would carry me on his shoulders my mother’s box of rings the Eiffel tower the manta rays swimming in the light of the dock everything becomes a footnote something someone puts in parenthesis or leaves in the back of a closet (remember how I said I liked your tie?)

Photo: http://www.honusports.com

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Magazines

On my living room table: my laptop, my glasses, a phone, a notebook, folders in different colors, a stapler, a pencil, a black marker and a huge stack of magazines.

I am going through said big stack of magazines page by page, ripping out interesting tidbits and putting them in places where I can put them to use.

I like O Magazine’s recommendations on books - which go into my book wish list on Amazon - and movies, that I enter into my Netflix cue so we only get really good picks we really want to watch.

I make a note of good blog or website recommendations, check them out, and then put my favorites up on the list on the right - because what’s the fun in finding something good if you’re not going to share it?

I have a file for products I might try one day or pretty things I like to look at and at least four fat binders (subdivided by ingredient) of recipes that deserve a whirl. Another for things I don’t know what to do with now but that I know someday will save the day (such as Real Simple’s “new uses for old things”). Another folder is for things Luca might find useful or interesting: for example, he just downloaded an app with international etiquette tips so he doesn’t do something considered rude in another country (never slurp soup directly from the bowl in Korea.)

Sunset Magazine is a treasure trove. I have a file filled with beautiful backyards that have contributed to turning my former strip of concrete into a place we want to hang out in. Two files for vacations – one for day trips and another for long weekends, all with places to discover up and down the West Coast. A dream file, for the day we build a green, sustainable house or go live on a lake or grow our own vegetables or design a Japanese garden.

Once all relevant information has been extracted and put in its proper place, then I can take my big stack of magazines and throw them in the recycling bin and get a cup of tea and put my feet up on my now mostly clear living room table.

If only I had a magazine to flip through.

Photo: www.sunset.com

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another possibility


Forgiveness might be too ambitious pure intentional you could instead trip over accidental restitution walk into a course balance of all these mutual infractions contrived spectral maybe indistinct wrongs committed over the years can somehow cancel each other out

Photo: www.realsimple.com

Friday, September 11, 2009

Inevitable


It would be reductive perhaps offensive to pretend I could make out the shape your sadness it’s electric inalienable like blood camouflaged by your breath it mimics a vital organ it’s grown tendrils that coil around your spine my breed of gloom is small tight vertical defined locked it cannot spread yours is real an affliction it has dignity mine is feeble it crouches and waits until what happened to you happens to me and then there might be no containing it

Photo: www.asknature.org

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Green glass tumblers



I am a terrible shopper. In the time that it takes to arrive at the cashier, I have already decided I don’t really need what I’m holding. At home, I favor empty surfaces and have a tendency to give things away (which often distresses my husband. “No, please! Not the couch! We often use the couch!”)

A few years ago, a box arrived in the mail. It held four tumblers made of recycled glass. My friend Cat had sent them. She said the fact that they were “Earth friendly”, and inscribed in several languages with the message “protect the Earth” made it impossible for her not to get them for us.

If Cat and I had been walking in the store together and she had declared “I’m going to buy you these!” I would have begged her not to. I don’t need more stuff! I already have glasses! I won’t use them! I’ll give them away!

I was right that I didn’t need the glasses. But, I did need inspiration. It was their sea green color that helped me choose the hue on my upstairs wall. They are at least partially responsible for us deciding to install bamboo floors a few years later. I also needed something pretty to hold. My ultra practical nature means most of what I own is a neutral (such as white dinner plates). It turns out green goes with everything. Most of all, I needed Cat in my life. She lives far away and yet, thanks to this gift, she's with me every single morning.

Photo: www.uncommongoods.com

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You have more power than you think

My friend Lori gave me a book called “The better world shopping guide”. It is based on the premise that every time you make a purchase you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. The book goes on to rank companies in different categories so you can decide which ones you want to support (by buying their products.)

The main issues are human rights (for example, child labor or fair wages), the environment (such as toxic waste dumping, sustainable farming), animal protection (humane treatment, ecosystem impact), community involvement (volunteer efforts, local business support) and social justice (cover ups, harassment, class action lawsuits).

Here is a list of the 10 best companies on the planet based on their social and environmental records: Seventh Generation, Working Assets, Eden Foods, Organic Valley, Clif Bar, Honest Tea, Patagonia, Tom’s of Main, Ben &Jerry’s, Aveda.

There are many companies out there that need to clean up their acts whose names won’t shock anyone (Walmart, Tyson Foods, Kraft) but others that surprised me: United Airlines, Samsung, Nestle, Nabisco, Planters. Gerber, for example, won the “most irresponsible” corporation award and is involved in a child slavery lawsuit, as well as aggressive takeovers of family farms. Chapstick is on the list of “top 100 corporate criminals”. There is evidence that M&M’s suppliers use child slave labor.

In most cases, it’s a matter of being informed and switching from one brand to another. Take cereal: Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat and Grape Nuts have an “F” raking, while Cascadian Farm has a B+, for example. Kashi could do much better and is currently a C. Or Chocolate: Toblerone ranks F, while Dagoba ranks A.

The reason I liked this book so much is because it reminds me that as a consumer we have more power than we think. With this information, we are in a better position to use it.

Photo: www.aveda.com

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I confess

I love talent shows. I know they are orchestrated to make for good television but they are also, despite the artifice, an honest manifestation of the good and the bad in human nature. Naked, undisguised ambition. Frequent and alarming examples of a complete lack of self-awareness. An expert judge anointing someone with what we all secretly dream of hearing: Yes. I confirm your suspicions. You have a gift. This is what you were meant to do. The process of watching someone come into full bloom. Most of all, the excessive, joyous, almost overwhelming amount of talent in the world. The fact that there is no shortage of that fills me with hope.

Photo: http://www.fox.com/dance/

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Many times


I dreamed that I went to Starbucks (which I haven't done for more than a year) and ordered a tall latte (not normally what I would order.)

I placed the white cup inside my tote, nestled between a stack of books and the outer corner of the bag. (You know what is about to happen, right?)

After carrying it all to my destination, I arrive to find the liquid has spilled, staining the canvas and ruining the contents. (Oh, my bag! Oh, my books!)

I woke up relieved that it was only a dream. And, not really needing anyone to analyze it. How many times do I do something despite knowing full well the outcome can’t possibly be good?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Razor wire

I find razor wire riveting.

I suspect the reason for my fascination is that the messages it sends (me) are completely incongruous.

Cruel (I’d rather see you shredded beyond recognition than trespassing) aggressive (try jumping over this and it will cut you), yet highly ineffective.

If I really wanted to get through, I’d use wire cutters and snip myself a door at the bottom rather than try to climb over to the other side. Granted, I’ve never tried doing that so I don’t really know how difficult it would be or how long it would take.

I guess its intent is to dissuade (don’t even try to come in here. Look how dangerous I am!) but it has the opposite effect on me. I find it strangely enticing (I bet I could outsmart you, you unsightly, mean, curly sharp thing you.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Airport

I was standing in line to buy gum at the LA airport and the skinny woman in front of me raised her arms high up in the air and started applying deodorant. The bathroom was less than 10 feet away. I saw someone else flipping through magazines and absentmindedly sticking her chewed wad of gum under the shelf without even looking around to see if she was being watched. There was a family sprawled out on the bare floor, with their faces resting directly against the cold, filthy tile. And a couple making out. Her hair was long and shaggy and her head thrown back as he nibbled on her neck and shoved his hands into the stretched out back pockets of her jeans.

If I was from another planet and wanted to study humankind, I'd pick an airport.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doorstop

My house came outfitted with doorstops that have never worked. The metal cylinder with the soft plastic tip fell off constantly and the door slammed open against the screw that was supposed to hold it where it belonged.

When we first noticed, a few days after moving in, we dismissed it as not urgent enough. We kept pushing the doorstops into place, only to find them lying on the floor against the wall. Every time I walked in or out I made a mental note I immediately forgot. The situation alternated between being irritating and being ignored.

It took us nine years to finally go to the hardware store, buy new ones, remove the old ones, and install the ones we had just bought. It wasn't hard.

A stuck window. A faucet that jiggles. Insignificant things don’t matter. Except, they do. They rob me of snippets of energy every time I realize they are still there.

It's less about being a control freak and more about giving my consciousness the vital, fragile space it needs to notice, distraction free, all the things about my life that are perfect and beautiful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Color

Most of my clothes were gray. Sometimes brown. Ever so often I'd make a conscious effort to buy something with color, and it would end up at the back of my closet, incongruous and forgotten, a dot of pink standing out in a colorless ocean.

The walls of my house were all linen white. I liked very much to sit in a room and look through the frame of the door into the other at the crisp, clean lines of white on white.

One restless night I got out of bed knowing I had to paint the walls. I walked through my house taking notes, picked the surfaces that needed color and settled on four hues: red, green, blue and yellow.  Headed back to bed, I passed by my closet and was startled by what has obviously been happening for years: splotches of green, red, pink, blue, yellow; and a bit of gray, incongruous and forgotten in an ocean of color.

Photo: www.besthousepainter.com

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Secret

I keep a secret from you unwillingly it’s not elaborate or curious it’s not intentional it involves growing old my veins showing blue through my skin it’s about how I know I need to take responsibility how I suspect that in the end I will have to do this on my own

Photo: www.realsimple.com

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guardian Angel

I take the next exit and don't believe what I see a red car coming towards me at full speed driving the wrong way on a main highway and nothing exists outside of this moment everything falls away work my inbox my voice mail the perpetual concern over my family’s safety my propensity towards insomnia any residue of anger the good book that sits on my bedside table the minor cruelties I witness every day the pain between my eyebrows your love that sits like an angel between my shoulder blades there is nothing but the steering wheel and veering left and slamming on the breaks and knowing there is no way out of this one and closing my eyes and bracing for the impact that never comes and wondering if your love actually is an angel sitting between my shoulder blades 

Photo: www.honda.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weightless

Weightless is what I want to be completely free so I forgive my mother for not giving me her beautiful full lips forgive my father for passing on to me the genes that make me anxious and apprehensive forgive my husband for every business trip he’s taken without me I forgive every twenty- something who doesn’t notice me anymore my best friend for the distance between us I forgive my teacher for that accumulated indifference my memory for taking specific events and wearing them thin and slippery and treacherous I forgive myself for not always being productive for wanting to watch TV sometimes for not possessing the esthetic sense to know what color to paint my dining room wall

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flotation devices

The storm was so bad the plane couldn't land. It tried to - for more than an hour it tried to, while passengers whimpered, gasped, prayed, heaved into their air sickness bags. I was sitting next to a small boy. He looked over at me and put his hand in mine. It felt fragile and cold, like a bird. I noticed my skin, dry and taught over my knuckles.

Everyone tells me I look exactly like my father, but my hands are my mother's hands. Hers are bigger, stronger, but I can see how mine were made using hers as a model. I see her in other places too - in my back and shoulders. I know I'm the spitting image of my father, but I'm my mother's daughter too.

My parents love me. Today, years later, while I pick fruit at the supermarket or slide something into the oven or straighten out my desk at the office I am often struck by this knowledge that comes out of nowhere and envelops me completely.

The very first time I tasted coffee was at my grandfather's house. We went to visit him and the next day I got up very early and he was already up. He was standing alone in the kitchen. He pulled out a chair so I could sit down and set a big mug in front of me. He poured boiling, frothy milk into it, from a battered metal pot. He added one large spoonful of sugar. Then, a touch of coffee, the black liquid barely coloring the white. I still drink it the same way.

There was a boy I liked in school, right at the time when girls liked boys and boys thought girls were gross. He had black hair and green eyes and wore heavy metal t-shirts. In the search for something to talk to him about I introduced myself to what is now referred to as classic rock. My preference for rock outlived my interest in the boy.

When I lived in Beijing I had a dear friend who was a DJ. He used to play whatever song my friend Mimi and I wanted, and we stayed out as late as my father would let me (which was never very late) dancing with abandon in a nearly empty disco in China in 1988.

Right away I loved going to work. The structure of it, its demands on one's character. I love getting up in the morning and walking outside in my pajamas to get the newspaper, the smell of the clean ocean air. I love glancing over the business section over my breakfast of toast and blueberries. I love showering and getting dressed and showing up and getting paid for something I love doing, which mostly involves expressing my opinion. I look at my paycheck and think, "Ha! What a deal".

To my complete surprise, I’m really good at this thing called marriage. I often get asked if I thought my husband was handsome the first time I saw him. What I thought, with a giddy, somewhat sick feeling, was "I love him". I loved him fiercely straight away and I still do, for the same reasons and different reasons, reasons I couldn't have predicted in that meeting room in Austin, Texas. I was 28 years old.

On the plane, with the pilot trying to land in the middle of that storm, I looked down at the San Francisco Bay and worried that the water would be really cold. I wondered if I'd manage to get out of my seat belt. If the cushion could really be used as a flotation device. It's funny how it's always the little things that matter the most.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Abundance

As long as you are here there will never be a drought no shortage of things to write about my new lipstick the smell of taxis in Canada the shape of the pasta Paola made for us the night we arrived back pain and how it’s changed the light in the photograph you took of all of us around the dinner table that looks like a Rembrandt the metal spirals of barbed wire lined with razors installed on top of fences in countries everywhere the virtues and pitfalls of orange paint and expensive furniture wanting new things parts of me that still surprise me do we ever really get to know ourselves

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Water

I can hear the rain drop against the ceiling gush down the gutters stream down the street it makes so much noise it fills my ears and yet my blood runs through my veins and doesn't make a sound

Photo: www.treehugger.com

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not us

Not us we are not like them I told you so this was your fault your idea you forgot again were careless again you never listen to me you don’t care anymore we don’t do this not ever I know only I can save you from me only you can save me from you 

Photo: www.realsimple.com

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Answer (to a FAQ)

I have no curtains so it can't hide behind them doesn't like my car or airplanes or public places is never idle on the sofa or twisted between my sheets it does like it under the bed outside loves the beach but not on a sunny day it sometimes sneaks into my purse I often find some in the watering can the bottom drawer of the refrigerator near where I hang my bathing suit to dry under the kitchen counter the backyard inside my boots in the pockets of my jeans tangled in the laces of my hiking shoes these are the places where I find the time to write in my blog

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's not about being green


I was watching a TV show earlier this week (In Treatment) where a psychologist asks his 12-year-old patient if she thinks about death. She stares at him like he has just exposed her secret. He leans a bit closer to her. "We all do, you know".  

I don't know if everyone thinks about death, but I know I do. I always have. When I was little my burden was the certainty that I’d die young, because I could not conceive becoming a grown up. (Guess what, kid? You were wrong.) When I was a teenager I was defiant, challenging the possibility of my life ending, until a car crash proved I was just as mortal as the next guy (wrong again). I now mostly think of it in the context of vulnerability. My own, and that of the people I love. (Wrong again? Please?)

Through all of this I've assumed that one day I will be returned to the earth, my ashes scattered in a discreet location with a nice view. You know - ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This is part of the reason I found the subject of the book "Grave Matters" so intriguing.  I know funerals feature metal caskets, burial vaults and embalming fluid, but I had never really considered the consequences: embalmed and encased inside a metal casket, "dust to dust" is, well, unlikely.

The book, by Mark Harris, a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, is "a journey through the modern funeral industry to a natural way of burial".

Whether you think about death or not, the funeral industry is one that most of us will contribute to. According to Harris, Americans bury more than 1.6 million tons of concrete and nearly 830,000 gallons of toxic embalming fluid a year, not counting enormous amounts of steel.

I want a green burial. A biodegradable casket. Maybe an ecopod that is handmade, comes in colors and is made of recycled paper.

In a green burial, my body would be placed in a simple coffin, if not like the one I describe above, then one made from cardboard or soft wood, like pine. I would be laid in a natural cemetery in rural land. No headstone, please. Plant a tree there instead.

If my body can return to the elements it came from, it can contribute to generating new life. And that is all the legacy I need.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cinco de Mayo

Most people I talk to in the United States believe that May 5th is Mexican Independence day. In fact, it's not even a national holiday. It’s regional, observed in Puebla, in honor of the battle against the French that took place in that city in 1865, when Mexicans defeated a powerful, much more numerous, better equipped French army who had not lost in nearly half a century. 

From a military perspective, winning did not mean very much for us. We lost another battle with this same army the very next day, and the French were not stopped as a result. However, the news of this brief, short-lived victory filled a poor, demoralized Mexico with a sense of place, enthusiasm and hope.  The French intervention resulted in other countries across the American continent to sympathize with our cause, and the Spanish, English and even (select) French media declared that retreating would be the right thing for the French to do.

This battle played a philosophical role in strengthening Mexican’s love for our country and solidifying our national identity. The experience of being invaded by the French contributed to determining many of the basic principles that to this day define a foreign policy I am proud of: respect for sovereignty and territory integrity, no-aggression, no interference in matters pertaining to other countries; conciliating differences through negotiation and not through force, and peaceful coexistence. Maybe this is why this day has become a celebration of Mexican heritage outside of Mexico. (Or, more likely, because it's a perfectly legitimate excuse to drink Coronas and hang out with friends.)

Our Independence Day is September 16, and it is of legendary proportions. I have never met a Mexican who does not observe it. We call it the day of the “grito”, our “cry for independence”. Every year, on the eve of September 16th (the night of September 15th) the President of Mexico rings the bells of the National Palace in the Zocalo, the historic center of Mexico City (one of the largest in the world, so it fits quite a crowd).  He then repeats the “Grito de Dolores” from the balcony of the palace to the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people assembled below. It goes something like this:

 "Mexicanos!”

(Imagine the simultaneous shuffling to attention of at least half a million people.)

“Viva Mexico!" (to which everyone roars back in unison “Viva Mexico!”)

Que vivan los heroes que nos Dieron patria! (Long live the heroes who gave us our fatherland!)

Que vivan los heroes que nos dieron libertad!  (Long live the heroes who gave us liberty!)

Viva Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla!
Viva Guadalupe Victoria!
Viva Ignacio Allende!
Viva José María Morelos y Pavón!
Via Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!

Que viva México!
Que viva México!
Que viva México!

Attending one of these events should be on the list of things everyone must do before they die. You don’t have to go to the one in the Zocalo: on that day, similar celebrations occur in cities and towns and districts and homes across the country, and in Mexican embassies all over the world. The following day is a national holiday. Perplexingly, it goes by practically unnoticed north of the border. (Another perfectly legitimate excuse to drink Coronas and hang out with friends, wasted.)

Mexican Independence Day is, hands down, my favorite holiday of the year. You can keep Christmas and all the gift giving and New Year’s with its long gowns and champagne and all the chocolates and red roses typical of Valentine’s day. Take the bowl of guacamole and the tequila you drink on May 5th and leave me, in the company of my family, under any available balcony, calling out “Que Vivan Los Heroes Que Nos Dieron Patria! Que vivan!” any day.

Photo: http://www.picturejockey.com/

 

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pandemonium


Because I’m a Mexican living in the US, many concerned, thoughtful people have asked my opinion about the swine flu and the general situation in Mexico City. I thought I’d share with you some flu related data I’ve been collecting. I am no expert, but tend to favor facts, particularly those which contribute to a general sense of perspective (as opposed to drama and speculation, which contributes to a general sense of confusion and chaos.)

The flu virus (not swine flu, just flu) mutates to a worldwide epidemic two times every 100 years. In other words, we are not dealing with anything we have never seen before.

Based on existing data, this is not a superbug. This new strain of "swine" flu is not any more virulent, contagious, or deadly than other forms of the flu, and the forms of contagion are just like regular flu (wash your hands.)

In a normal flu season, children, elderly and ill people die from the flu. In fact, 36,000 people die from it in the US every year. 13,000 people have died of normal flu in this country since January, 2009. Not swine flu. Just flu.

In the US, symptoms of swine flu have been mostly mild. In Mexico, swine flu has not been mild, at least not in every case. My personal opinion -my personal inexpert opinion - is that poverty might be a factor. People living in close quarters, undernourished, who have no way to get to doctors or hospitals, who can't afford healthcare or even taking time off to recover.

Here is a good time to add, in the interest of sharing honest, unbiased data, that other pandemic flus strike young, healthy people the hardest. In light of this, wouldn’t it help tremendously to know how many mild cases of swine flu Mexico has had? Just so we’re not feeling that everyone who has gotten it South of the border has died from it (which would be inaccurate?)

I realize influenza is never to be taken lightly. I worry more, however, about the extreme measures the Mexican government has taken. All public places have been closed (I tweeted about soccer games with no audience allowed, a mark of a crisis in a futbol loving country.) Bars, schools (and universities – nation wide), movie theaters, galleries, sporting events have been shut down. A friend said that just walking down a half empty street fills you with an apocalyptical sense of doom.

I am lucky not be in a position where I have to make these types of decisions. From my cushy seat, I think these measures have been over the top.

More concerning of all is that the Mexican government has "given itself power" to search private homes for sick people, intercept them on streets, and force them to get treatment. How would you like it if a government with an iffy reputation could search your home at any time without any kind of warrant? Don’t you think this lends itself to all kinds of abuse?

Fears of abuse aside, I think measures this extreme cause a great deal of panic, and panic contributes to aggravating the situation. Just one example is it leads people to take medicine they don't need, which in turn makes the virus resistant to it. (Speaking of facts, there is no lack of medication - the vaccine industry is strong.)

To answer your (deeply, deeply appreciated) most common question, my family is, thankfully, safe. Up until today, I am not any more worried about swine flu than I am about normal flu. I don’t entirely agree with how the Mexican government has handled it. And I’ll be very happy when this is all over and people can travel to my country again, because Mexico is going through a terrible, scary, disconcerting, awful time (difficult economic conditions + virus + earthquake) and needs all the help it can get. I’ve booked a trip to Mexico for my next vacation, and I hope you do the same.

Photo: flu virus, www.nationalgeographic.com

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Never


I have never been to South Africa or Madagascar or Nebraska never owned red soled shoes or painted my toenails blue have never been seriously ill never felt the absence of my security net one that hangs unfailingly beneath me every time I make a difficult decision I’ve never been accused of a crime have never committed one have never wanted to look back even though sometimes I have to I have never until now drawn attention to all these things always there outlining me yet previously invisible

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It could have been here

Stefania and her husband, Marino, are ordinary people. He is an architect. She’s a clerk. They have a son, Giorgio, who recently turned 15.

They are not and have never been well off. For years they have put all their energy and money into a modest house in the medieval town of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo, Italy.

At 3:32 a.m. on April 6, as the ground shook in the worst, deadliest earthquake that country has seen since 1980, Stefania shouted at Giorgio to stand under the door. The frame above it fell into his hands. He set it down and ran downstairs. The stairway held until the family got out, and then the whole building turned to ruble.

Stefania, Marino and Giorgio are alive. But they lost their house and everything in it. Photo albums, memories, letters, furniture, clothes. It’s all gone. They are not the only ones. The earthquake left more than 20,000 people homeless. 

What would you do if you lost everything but the clothes you happen to be wearing in the middle of the night?

Stefania and her family are currently waiting to be assigned a sort of container where they will be living for a few months (and we hope not years.)

This family is not an anonymous story that took place somewhere far away. Stefania is the sister of one of Luca’s best friends, someone he’s known for more than 20 years.

If you would consider sending money to Stefania and her family it will not be lost in a bureaucratic labyrinth. It will go directly to a family in L’Aquila who would like to start over with a bit of dignity, and who is not ashamed to admit that they need all the help they can get.

I know full well life can change in a second. I know too that second can be in the middle of the night.  I do hope that if I lose everything, someone out there will find it in their heart to help.

Donations (even 5 dollars would be tremendous) can be made with Paypal to  luca_penati@hotmail.com 

Luca and I will be matching donations up to $1,000.

 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bigger small steps


As outlined in perhaps excessive detail in past entries, we have taken all kinds of steps towards being more environmentally responsible. We always have cloth shopping bags in the trunk of our hybrid (and hardly ever request paper or plastic or any kind of shopping bag anymore); have turned off our sprinkler system and water by hand only when absolutely necessary (we haven’t watered at all in over two months because of the rain), and buy mostly local and organic (which, all debating aside, I think tastes better.)

There are five things we are embarking into in 2009 that require a bit more involvement that I thought I'd share.

1. The first has to do with putting things I own and never use into the hands of people who need them. Here is a partial list:

If you have shoes in your closet that you never or seldom use  (and don’t go telling me you don’t) check out souls for soles.

I found a place that takes eyeglass frames in case you have a few that are no longer the right prescription (or that make you look like you belong in the 80's.) 

Every time I travel on business, I throw the beauty products I like the most into my suitcase, until it dawned on me that I had more lotion, shampoo and body wash than I'd ever need. So I dropped them off  here.

If you have books you've read and won't read again, ship them off to someone who wants them. Bookmooch also lets you donate points if you don't want to bother with the swapping.

2. The second step we've taken in our effort to go green is composting, to reduce the amount of waste we put in landfills.

We finally found a composter we felt was right for us and have been experimenting with it for a few days. I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, I feel virtuous every time I go out and dump in my banana peels (and Luca has become a eco-sergeant.)

3. In honor of my brother Pedro who's a water conservation expert, we’re looking into installing a rain barrel in our backyard to collect rainwater to use later for our plants. This might be something we get around to doing before the next rainy season because we didn't move fast enough this time around.

4. We also think it would be really fun to plant our own vegetables (specially since, as a result of composting, we’ll have lovely, rich soil in our hands). We need more time to really get this one going, though.

5. Finally, we looked into how much solar panels would cost but based on their price and the money they would save us (in relation to our current energy consumption) we’ve decided to wait. Getting a personal assessment is free so I recommend you look into it (because price and the money you save is related to where you live, what direction your house faces in, how much energy you use, and a lot of other variables.)

I'll keep you posted on progress (and try not to bore you) and am really interested in hearing anything you’ve been doing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Waste

I might have been the only one who believed all of it you and me like blood our lives intertwined forever we were instead inane prone to rapid disintegration in the place of a broken memory carefully preserved painful precious there is nothing a nuisance a hairline fracture on a crystal pitcher dirty dishes piled in the kitchen sink what a waste loving you turned out to be

Photo: www.potterybarn.com