Bird Quarrels and Peace

Summer photo - but still windy!
Summer photo – but still windy!

Last weekend, ferocious winds blew in a taste of winter. Bright and sunny with cold gusts that turned the leaves inside out and off their branches. I took my cue to get my winter nest ready and washed and aired flannel sheets and heavy blankets, letting them flap dry in the crazy wind.

A week later it’s summer again and I sit on my porch in shirtsleeves watching two red- headed woodpeckers follow each other back and forth between the trees. I am reminded there is a bright side to bare branches: the birds! Winter is prime bird watching time.

See the little profile there in the left?
See the little pecker-profile?

A drama unfolds between these two birds – one is noisily berating the other who ignoring the complaints without a peep, focuses on worrying the bark. And now a jay has announced himself with a shriek. He lands in the bird bath, eyes the empty feeders and leaves wanting no part of the fracas.

They’re still at it. If they were weaving a web as they flew between the trees, it would be impassable by now – they have passed back and forth between the trees so often.

The aggressive one just attacked the other, falling with a thud onto the lawn beside me. “Whoa! Easy guys!” I called out as if breaking up a schoolyard fight. Another bird – a catbird briefly lands and after noisy commentary, flees the scene. What’s wrong with them? It’s not mating season – maybe it’s time to claim their winter home. I have prime bird real estate in a good size stump snug up against another tree.

Battle for the stump?
Battle for the stump?

My bird show just took a dramatic turn with the sound of heavy flapping wings – I look up just in time to catch a large hawk or falcon chased by a smaller bird. I did not see if the bird of prey had scored a meal but I’d wager the scrappy bird chasing him will not be lunch.

This is what I miss when I leave here every day to go to work. If I won the lottery, I’d be content to report to you on nature’s news from out my window or from my porch and at the end of the day, I’d feel satisfied. Well, I’d punctuate this with walks and beach romps with the dog I would get.

I love observing the buzz of nature. The busy efforts of creatures and plants to survive and thrive on this magnificent earth. I am content to watch the birds and fattening squirrels on my tiny patch of land within earshot of the highway to New York City less than an hour away. An hour or two with this world on my doorstep is enough to bring me back to some essence of life well beyond the hamster-wheel that can be my life: my job, paying bills and worrying about this depressing election. I find peace in paying attention to the feel of the air, the smell of the seasons and the quarrels of birds.

Wishing Crazy

As a kid, I was crazy about wishing. When dusk fell, I pressed my nose to the window to see the first star and recited this little ditty in my head: “Star-light, star-bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, that the wish I wish tonight, does come true”. I can still picture (what may well have been a planet) the twinkling glow blurred through the crosshatch of the grimy screen of my Bronx apartment window. I have no memory of what I was wishing for. Some toy? After all, we had the essentials in my family.

Then I discovered eyelashes. My eyelashes. Whenever my mother fished an eyelash out of my eye she’d offer it, balanced on her fingertip, and say, “Make a wish!” Who knew that I fluttered such a wealth of wishes every time I blinked? There was no stopping me now! Oh, I still sent my desires out to the stars, but also added lashes. I pulled away at my lids, then lined them up on my pillowcase, wishing on them one by one. Again, I cannot remember what it was I was after? And did I wish the same thing on every lash? Or assign a special wish to individual lashes?

What I do remember is the look of horror on my mother’s face as she put me to bed one night. “What happened to your eyelashes?” I started crying, probably in embarrassment. I don’t think I told her what I was up to. Even at the age of 5 or 6, I suspect I sensed that this wishing business was all nonsense.

Or was it? What got me on this tangent today was an Advanced Reader Copy of (ARC in the biz) I received the other day: One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life by Mitch Horowitz. I can’t give you my 2 cents about this book since I’ve yet to read it, but the jist of it is the author’s personal and intellectual exploration about whether the power of positive thinking works. And his first chapter is titled: “To Wish Upon a Star” reminding me that my nightly date with a star was as much a part of my bedtime ritual as any Our Father or Hail Mary. Is there a connection between this wishing business and positive thinking? Perhaps. Hope?

In a way, I still send my wishes out there. Every every time I spend a few bucks on a lottery ticket or email off another query to a literary agent, and if that “wish” comes true – which it sometimes does – my manuscript, I do so with a wish worthy of a star or an eyelash. Even though I only rake in rejections, and toss out the lottery tickets, I keep at it. Similarly, every spring I plant the garden thinking this year the fence will keep that bastard groundhog out.

I appreciate the power I have as an adult to make many things happen rather than wait for some abstract magic and power from space. And while I’m still not above the occasional wish,  the truth is – I already have so much – and now, I get that. My beautiful daughter is healthy and happy. Ditto on my good man and sweet dog. I have a great, book-filled job and darling house with a good roof  surrounded by neighbors who are friends that I love. What more could I wish for? Besides, I want my eyelashes to grow back.

Vicarious Travel Pleasure Through Blogs

I’ve become a real armchair traveler and there are plenty of journeys to enjoy through  the blogosphere.

This adorable and adventurous Dutchwoman rides her bicycle around the world, pedaling  up and down mountaintops, camping on a whim in empty pagodas. She spent months in Japan and is now in Korea – eventually, she’s heading to China. When she feels like it. Lucky us, we get to sit at home and look at her incredible photos and read her quirky stories from the warmth and comfort of home. And to feel envious and maybe think, “I’d like to do that”. Although, I suspect I’d be lonely. I usually was when I traveled alone – secretly pining for some dreamboat traveling companion or a posse of girlfriends like when Paula, Jane and I drove across country from Kentucky to California. (That was a great trip.) The thoughtful attentiveness of solitude can be rich but that lonely ache that comes with it, well, it’s not my favorite anymore.

I love expat blogs – like this one by a funny woman in Italy who discovers all the crazy quirks of that great city and transforms her sometimes frustration into hilarious joy. She loves her Rome and we get to enjoy it with her without coughing up any airfare.

An American woman about my age, beautifully writes about upping and moving to France with her husband and teenage boys. Alice posts daily about their search to find a walk-able, live-able village for her family to settle in. This post made me think yesterday – her last line, “Birds fly because they have nothing to carry with them” sums it up beautifully. I looked around the house at all the stuff we cram into our tiny house.  Later that morning, after paying the mortgage we hit a few tag sales and my favorite church thrift shop. At a tag sale I found a beautiful cover for the sofa and an impossibly soft throw both for $24. At the thrift shop I bought the softest cashmere sweaters – one in orange the other, a red v-neck. $18.  Do I need these things? Well, it’s getting cold around here. But – no. I don’t. But they are lovely and what a bargain…

Tag Sale Finds
Tag Sale Finds

I do miss travel – the possibilities, the glimpses into other lives, the thought of creating a new one every day – out of a suitcase. It’s the first treat I imagine when we eventually win the lottery — planning the long trips. But, but, but… what about my garden? What will the groundhog eat if I don’t plant some Edamame next spring for him to gobble up? And our beloved dog, Tetley? We couldn’t possibly leave him behind.

Tetley!

Okay, maybe for a week. I guess, for now, with 3.5 years left of college tuition to pay, that’s about as free-spirited as I can get anyway. So meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the amazing exotic trips France captures in her astounding photos, and this blog by a couple who were lucky enough to discover each other and their shared dream-life early on and remarkably, they are still going strong – and to wonderful places. That sounds perfect to me – I hate eating alone. Where to next and what should I make for dinner?

Contemplating Monday

Given my druthers and some decent lottery winnings, I’d probably not work a job. I know I’ve said that before, but there, I’ve said it again. I think about this kind of thing as this gorgeous autumn Sunday afternoon turns into twilight and next light will bring us to Monday. Back to work. There seems to be an atmospheric shift in the neighborhood. Kids in a little earlier, the handyman down the street cleaning out his truck, kitchen lights on and I can see the tops of peoples heads. Sunday dinners? Tomorrow’s lunches?

Well, what if I didn’t have to go? What if I had so much bloody dough I could pay for my own insurance and pay my bills forever without worry? Would I spend all my days like I did today? Procrastinating? Not really motivated to do a damn thing?

For a start, I slept a little later than usual. Most weekend mornings, if I don’t have to work, I’ll get up around 7:30 or so and sit myself here and write for a few hours. Not this morning: I hit snooze and kept doing just that. After walking the dog, I sat in front of this screen and sorted through emails I’d been ignoring. I looked at Facebook for longer than I should have. When I finally made it over to Word Press to write a post, I instead trolled other people’s blogs. Later, I did house stuff – laundry and dishes taking a break to read the newspaper in the spectacular autumn sunlight. Lovely. I walked Tetley again, a nice long stroll. Slowly. Not even fast enough to get any cardio benefit. 

Would I while away my days like this if every day? Would I start to watch daytime television? (naa)

Anyway, I don’t  dread the thought of returning to work. I have no pit-of-my stomach ache about Monday. After all, I work with books and people who also love books and write books and buy books. The news that I didn’t win last night’s Powerball did not break my heart. I like my life fine. Certainly, days off are gifts – and it’s okay to sometimes fritter them away like I did today (I think it’s called relaxing). But the sweetness of that time is due to the fact that they are outnumbered by days of work. If every day were my own without expectations, demands – structure, I’d probably get a little fat and a little lonely. 

As the light of this Sunday fades, my structureless bliss passes and my little inner efficiency engine starts to kick on. I start to plan tomorrow and the rest of the week. I have to work late on Wednesday and there’s an event on Saturday, and ugh, we’ve already put out Christmas cards. But all of it’s okay. Besides, I bought 2 lottery tickets yesterday. The drawing for that second one is on Tuesday, so there’s still a chance… 

A Year in My (Fantasy) Life of Retirement

In another 8 months, my daughter will be off to her new life as a college student. This imminent change for both of us has cooked up a veritable soup of emotions but also, a sense of possibility about what adventures might also be awaiting me. My dreaming was inspired by this list of “best places to retire” article on this morning’s Yahoo page. I can never resist reading through their choices, imagining myself in any of those places. Forbes’ list launched me into a full-fledged fantasy about what I might do, of course, (since this is fantasy) if I could indeed retire. Once an expat, the itch never quite goes away. Here’s my plan:

Call me a scrooge, but still reeling from 15 years of holiday retail, I’d give all the Merry Christmas business a miss and disappear to Japan where December 25th is basically a day to eat クリスマスケーキ pronounced “krisumas-cayki”.  After ringing in the New Year in lovely Kyoto, traditionally a time of cleaning and contemplation and ringing a big old bell at a neighborhood temple (details here) it’s off to find the warmth of the sun.

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Definitely time I went back to Bali. (thanks Yukiko for the great photo) Creativity is everywhere in the hill villages of that tiny Hindu island in Indonesia. (please note: I was a pre-Elizabeth Gilbert visitor) I imagine a month of writing, eating, walking, while reveling in the sound of gamelans, the rice paddies, waterfalls and the brilliant smiles of the warmest people I’ve ever met. And the food is good.

Next, all the way to the bottom tip of Australia.

courtesy of trip advisor
courtesy of trip advisor

Tasmania is where Jenny, one of my most missed and dearest friends in the world lives. We are friends from Kyoto days – and I have never laughed so hard and so often with anyone in my life and that alone makes this a trip to take. Bonus that it will be summer there and Tasmania looks incredible with wild beaches and incredible bush.

After exploring around the South Pacific, (Fiji? Papua New Guinea maybe?) it will be time to make my way back towards spring in the Northern Hemisphere. First stopping for some good eats and the crazy energy of Hong Kong and a little exploration of South East Asia. (Laos?)

Spring comes early to the incredible coast of Croatia and Montenegro. I long to marvel once again at the Adriatic light, the most remarkable spectrum of sea colors. Ideally, there will be a sweet house (or this incredible place looks fine!) looking out at that rugged landscape where I will write and maybe even paint for a month or so.  I imagine the scent of eucalyptus, the light, the soft breeze through the cypress and the crystalline water lapping over the rocks. I’ll sit here and read, stare, swim, doze…

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Next, a visit to Greece. I haven’t been since becoming entranced at 18 when I landed on the island of Paros and could explore no further. There is an art school there so even in November, although the tourists were gone, I discovered a dynamic arts community. It was as if I had been drugged by the sweet lavender air – the days drifted into one another – exploring the rocky hills, the restaurants, the retsina? What was it about that place? I’d like to see if I’d feel it again. And – to eat the food! To, as I did a lifetime ago,  wake to the fisherman slapping octopus against the rocks.

Italy always calls to me. Perhaps I can make that visit with Molly – a pilgrimage to her birthplace in Puglia, to the hospital in Brindisi and if we can find them, meet up with the doctors who saved her life. Then, up north to a villa – in Tuscany or here less saturated Abruzzo.  I’d invite my Studio 70 sisters for one of our creative retreats. This would do nicely, don’t you think, gals?

19I imagine our days overlooking the hills, dinners of incredible food and endless red wine. Still, we’ll wake early and find our solitary corners to drink too many cups of coffee and feel inspired. Bliss.

By then it’s time to return to Connecticut to plant my garden at my sweet house and catch up with loved friends. Of course the groundhogs will still eat most of what I plant but I won’t mind as much. As I’m retired, there will be no excuses not to host all the dinner parties I always imagine – set at our lovely table out back. The sunflowers (these past years, eaten as seeds, every one) will be bountiful.

GardenLots of kayaking out to the islands and long overdue trips into the city to museums and restaurants and visits with missed friends and family.

As summer wanes, it’s time to hit the road again — into the groovy AirStream of my dreams DSC_0152_800x531_for a leisurely trip across the States. I know it’s terribly muggy in Kentucky at this time of year but that just makes everyone move slower – savoring the sweaty nights of catching up with more missed friends from Studio 70 days. We’ll sit along the muddy banks of the meandering Ohio River as if no time has passed but rather just been an endless current of connection unbroken by time or space. And of course, like the old days, we’ll discuss time, space, art.

Then, meandering across the US – (the northern route this time) – popping in to National Parks (check out the webcam of Old Faithful!) oldfaithvcA few weeks of luxuriously visiting friends, making new ones, browsing bookstores and thrift shops, farmer’s markets.

Now it’s autumn — a good time to tootle along the Pacific Coast — hikes through the (to me) exotic landscape and perhaps landing in an idyllic spot overlooking the ocean — to contemplate, walk, write — somewhere temperate – Monterey area maybe? I remember a summer spent in San Francisco – and again, the light and sweet air smells.

And as we roll into December it will be time to head back to Kyoto again – to get ready to ring in another year of itchy-foot plans. India? Definitely Morrocco…

What would you do?

Ruminations on the Holidays and a Retail Life

This year I received a pin marking my 15th year working for my company. How lucky am I to have a job I love for all of these years? It’s just around this time of year – working in a store is tough. Look – if I won the lottery today I’d still work through the holiday season rather than leave my dear colleagues in the lurch. But I would be joyous – not only because of my great winnings (I have a rich fantasy life) but because, it would be my last. Fifteen years of my 17 year old daughter’s life around the holidays, have been experienced through the prism of me in retail insanity. I mostly come home exhausted and full of bah-hum-bug, a grouchy cookie baker, reluctant to listen to yet more Christmas music. Poor kid.

Don’t get me wrong — there are parts of the madness I love. It’s great to have the bookstore bustling with energy, readers delighting in discovering new books. What I don’t enjoy is the sense of exaggerated emergency that seems to linger like a frost from ‘Black Friday’ until New Year’s. It’s like everyone has imbibed too much coffee. This year, that amped-up feeling seems even more intense around here because of Sandy the hurricane, everyone is scrambling, anxiety twisting our gut.

I hate that feeling. And I wonder why I am susceptible to it? I have lived through real emergencies and know to my core that not being able to get the right book on time hardly counts as one. This manic-mode is not necessary, nor even helpful – yet, here I go again.

But not yet. Today is Thanksgiving and — I do give thanks. After roasting vegetables, making another pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green beans, the three of us will walk across the street to celebrate with our dear friends. I’ll do my best to hang on to the sweetness of this shared celebration – to seize this day as the start of a busy, but mellow and joyous holiday season. Because who knows – I still might win the lottery.

Wishing

I became obsessed with wishing at a very early age. My bedtime ritual included peering through the screened window out over neighboring Bronx buildings into the smoggy city sky and wishing on the first star I saw that night. Now I suspect I was sending out my yearnings to either Venus or Mars.

The first time my mother retrieved a fallen eyelash from my cheek and presented it to me on her finger with instructions to make a wish, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. A few weeks later, alarmed she said, “What happened to all your eyelashes?” I never had luxurious lashes again.

In trying to recall what exactly I was wishing for, I draw a blank.  Perhaps they were lofty hopes like for world peace – inspired by the anti-Vietnam war marches my parents brought me to. Or maybe for the long-desired dog.  Now I fantasize about winning the lottery, dream about getting my book published, aspire to staying healthy and hope for my daughter’s life to be charmed.

I confess, I still believe in magic. Or something. I guess, at the risk of sounding new-agey, I believe in putting ‘it’ out there — ‘it’ being a range of things. I confess to making a random wish, but mostly, I take action even though the odds are against me. For instance, I buy a lottery ticket almost every week. I’m not so delusional that I actually think I will win — but I might. But only if I buy a ticket, right?  And during those delicious days of possibility, I love the fantasy my ticket inspires.

I also continue to believe I will get my book published even though the state of the industry is abysmal. I still send out queries to agents and continue to feel excitement in the waiting –  and just file the rejections and start all over again. The possibility is only there as long as I keep trying, keep putting myself out there. For the rest, I eat healthy and exercise and my daughter is charming thus, must be charmed.

And I’m not pulling out another precious eyelash.

How to Take a Vacation (Hint: Check the Guilt)

It’s been years since I’ve taken a vacation. I mean a vacation when you go somewhere with the intention of having no intention but to lay-about, eat and sleep – maybe a beach is involved. I seem to have lost the knack.

This is the last of 5 days off in a row — and other than a doctor visit, I had nothing planned. A de facto vacation, right? I spent my days mostly doing what I always think I want to do when I’m longing for time off: reading, napping in the middle of the day, and… I don’t remember what else…

That’s what is disconcerting. I feel a little bit like I wasted my time off, that I should have accomplished something. Written something brilliant or finished painting the house, cleaned out the garage, that sort of thing. I can blame the weather a little. The first day was oven-hot so I hunkered down inside with air-conditioning and made a half-hearted attempt at cleaning before picking up a book. I read and then, fell asleep sprawled on the couch. Thursday and Friday were rainy and cold. Perfect excuse to read and nap. I did splurge on a facial and went to the first physical I’ve had in years. (perfect, thank you very much)

Yesterday, the clouds parted, the temperature dropped and a spectacular day gave me no excuses. I did mow the lawn. Then lethargy hit again and I napped between reading the New York Times (the joys of home delivery – you get a head start on Sunday’s paper.) It was too cool to kayak. Anyway, we didn’t. Maybe today.

Sounds like an ideal vacation, doesn’t it? So why this gnawing guilt that I didn’t get anything done? Piles of papers I should have sorted, weeds still entrenched, dust-bunnies multiplying like live ones. I’ve barely written a word, no visits with friends, no yoga classes or gourmet meals. Tomorrow, I am back to work – to carving the things I want to do from the things I must do out of the time that remains after 40 plus hours at my job.

Tucked in my wallet is a lottery ticket – to feed my fantasy that were I to win, I’d figure out what to do with all that time to myself. Or at least, how to take a guilt-free vacation. At a very distant beach.