Friday, January 30, 2009

Laughter Bowl XXVII

You wouldn't have read about it in the sports section or seen it on ESPN, but the circa 1980 Tarheels reunited for some post season play a few Saturdays ago. You could call ours The Laughter Bowl. Huddled around the dinner table were the team's center, long snapper, a wide receiver, fullback and offensive tackle.  

It's the same every year:  great food, great wine and, always, the legend of the bell tower streaking incident must again be told.  The teammates double over laughing, in an adrenalin reverie of pursuit by campus police.  The wives smile, thinking of their husbands, twenty-something and naked.  Though difficult and sad at times, the years have mostly been very kind to all of us.  So there we were - and hope to be again next January - older and a teeny bit wiser, celebrating as if the ACC title had just been clinched.  A circle of friendship, banded together for life. More precious than a Superbowl ring.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January love

It's gotten to that point when we may need reminding of what's to love about this cold winter month:
1.  that clean slate feeling
2.  slippers and Swiss Miss
3.  snowflakes caught on coat lapels
4.  resolution-making hopefulness
5.  a good Superbowl chili recipe
6.  days really are getting longer
7.  hyacinths blooming indoors
8.  stores filling up with Valentines
9.  catching the Oscar-nominated movies
10.  Newbery and Caldecott Award winners 
in children's literature are announced

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

take your medicine

"What is the way into the soul?  Create your way in. Love your way in.  Ask yourself, what does your soul love?  Music, beauty, color, nature, the earth, design, innovation, holiness, reconciliation, truth telling, laughter, movement, feeling deeply, caring for others, caring for selfhood, feeling free . . . give these to the soul.  They are the most powerful medicines."   Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Monday, January 26, 2009

Soul sister

Want to get in the soul-filling habit of appreciating more art in your life?  You won't find a more jubilant guide than Sister Wendy Beckett, British nun and internationally known art critic, author, television star. A true study in contrasts, she was a humble hermit who had never even watched television before being 'discovered' and asked to host her own documentary series. Her method of critique is simply to gaze upon great works from around the world - and throughout time - and share her personal perceptions.  "All great art is a visual form of prayer," says Sister Wendy.  

Passionate, irreverent, and with a wicked sense of humor, her gift for bringing art to life will inspire you to make art a bigger part of your life. Due to declining health, Sister Wendy has retired in solitude to her small trailer on the grounds of a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, England.  But her spirit is still flitting about, on dvd and in the pages of more than a dozen wonderful books.  Hallelujah for that.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Four score and seven years from now

The power of words.  Nowhere was it more evident than Tuesday's presidential inauguration ceremony. Two preachers, a poet and a president, each using words to capture a moment in time. Each with a unique and distinct delivery.  The preachers set a tone of reverence and invoked a blessing on the country. The poet raised a solemn and lovely toast to America and her people.  The president issued a call to honor and action.  These words are part of history now, to be re-read, reflected upon and remembered four score and seven years from now.  And for all time.     

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

{Resolutions:  save commemorative inauguration day section from newspaper with speech, pictures, poem and prayers . . . pick up chocolate cake for Walter's birthday . . . use great Peterson's Field Guide to identify the many visitors flocking to the backyard birdfeeder}

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

day of wonder

Dawn stillness,
swirls of downy flakes,
     soft and silent
lamplit windows,
frozen birdbath, tiny prints
a joyous leaping dog 
downy boots, thick gloves, warm coats
new friend in the yard,
     carrot for a nose
angels all around
marshmallows bobbing
     in a sea of hot chocolate,
peace and possibility - 
inauguration day,
     snow day.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

on dreams

We work our jobs, go to school, practice religion, put food on the table and a roof overhead, pay taxes, tend our health and children and pets and hobbies and just generally keep on keeping on.  But do we ever dream?  It seems kind of frivolous next to the light bill that needs to be paid and the quarterly report due on Thursday. But it's where the truly great stuff of life begins.  Maybe that would be the best way to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King today.  To drill down, dig in and dust off a dream that lies deep inside each of us.  Underneath the laundry pile, the ice on the windshield, the heart that ticks off our days on automatic.  It's there, you can be sure of that.  He had a dream.  And we do, too.   
art © Matheus de Oliveira

Saturday, January 17, 2009

citrus season

There's much to be said for growing up in a tropical climate.  One in which your father would go outside and pluck a grapefruit for your breakfast from the tree in the yard.  Then cut it in half, loosening the sections with a funny little serrated knife designed just for that purpose, sprinkle it with sugar and have it waiting at your place at the table before the bus arrived at the corner to take you to Delray Elementary.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

{Resolutions:  keep the kettle on . . . rekindle belief in miracles and be open to the idea that they may take on many different disguises . . . get more familiar with the teachings of Brother Lawrence}

Thursday, January 15, 2009

a whole lotta' happy

. . . a snowshoer in the winter woods, rows of glass-fronted boutiques, Lionel electric trains, big red barns, map reading, tug boats, jelly jars, grandmothers, wheat fields, brass horns, foreign coins, pancakes with raspberry syrup, possibilities . . . In the sixth grade, Barbara Ann Kipfer began jotting down things that made her happy.  Decades later, she turned these spiral notebook scribblings into a quirky, chunky, cheery volume called 14,000 things to be happy about. This perennial bestseller speaks volumes about the kind of life the author has fostered.  The kind of life anyone can foster.  Looking for happiness everywhere.  Which is the only sure-fire way to find it.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

{Resolutions:  attend dinner update on latest research in Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes . . . devour new Communication Arts magazine with a dog driving an old Buick on the cover (thank you, Arkon, for the annual subscription!) . . . not leave the house without a pair of gloves . . . refuse to take even a single hour for granted} 

Monday, January 12, 2009

monday morning photo shoot

Canary yellow apron:  check!  Rolling pin: check!  Bouquet of brightly colored flowers: check!  Fab photographer:  check!  Lots of laughter.  Sometimes work doesn't feel like work at all.   

Sunday, January 11, 2009

park here

Life isn't always a walk in the park.  But sometimes a walk in the park is just what you need in life.  You will come across humanity in all shapes and sizes. Some people push a stroller.  Or a wheelchair. Some are holding hands. There are birds in the bare branches, ducks swimming in the vast oval pond.  An old man fishes.  Tennis balls thwack across a court.  Half a dozen Latino boys chase and shout after a soccer ball.  A few gangly teenagers shoot baskets.  Tired parents sit on benches, watching their children on the playground.  The weather hints of a cold front coming.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009

wake & bake

Saturday morning.  You may not have woken up in a four-star boutique hotel with European linens and breakfast tray delivered by room service. And on that tray a silver carafe of coffee, fresh squeezed juice in a crystal glass and a basket of heaven made by the pastry chef at dawn. But you can still tiptoe downstairs to the quiet of your own scullery and and make a batch of these scones. So simple, so delicious. Fresh fruit preserves optional.   

Saturday morning scones
2 cups flour
3 tbs sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 c dried cranberries
orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 425ยบ.  Sift together dry ingredients.  Cut in butter. Gradually add cream to form a soft dough.  Knead lightly on floured surface.  Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness and cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

{Resolutions:  read Jane Smiley's biography of Charles Dickens, a great writer dishing on one of the greatest writers ever . . .  white tulips, a cellophane-wrapped bunch for $3.99 at the grocery store . . . print photos from holidays to include in thank you notes . . . }

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

sailing around the past

Funny what floats through your mind in the wee hours when rain is falling outside in torrents.  I was thinking how we had both a tandem bicycle and a catamaran sailboat growing up. Once, a huge school of jellyfish swam below as we skimmed the water.  Indian Rocks Beach was just over the bridge, where you could buy candy by the bucket at Pueblo Village.  I once bought a pair of Espadrilles there, too. And we had the sweetest dog named Misty, who came running to the television one time when she heard someone in a cowboy western call out "Mister Whiskey!" Billy Collins would turn all of this into a great poem.  

Monday, January 5, 2009

color your world

January can be somewhat colorless, if you let it. Grey weather, dormant grass, snow-covered gardens.  In the advertising world, we get our color the old fashioned way: from the Pantone color guide, a gazillion numbered color swatches printed on skinny sheets and bound in a chunky flip book. It's a standardized system that was created in the 1960s as a way for designers to color match their work for production.  Now folks in different locations (art directors, production supervisors, printers, clients) are able to make sure they are all working from the exact same colors.  

January is also when design gurus predict hot color trends for the new year, based on lots of unscientific psychological reasoning.  In 2009, purple is supposed to be most pleasing, along with the bright happy hues of exotic lands to cheer us up in gloomy times.  Upon opening that first box of crayons in childhood, I couldn't have fathomed that there was a science to the art of color. Nor imagined the emotional implications of a vivid yellow daffodil, the turquoise blue sea, fire engine red. Only grasped that into the world had suddenly burst a rainbow of possibility.   
{Resolutions:  catch the Andy Warhol exhibit at The Mint before it ends . . . pay the bills on time (no more late fees!) . . . take an Omega 3 capsule and a baby aspirin every day . . . stir up some homemade spaghetti sauce}  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

i'll have what she's having

Are certain people just born with a ravenous appetite for life?  Or is it something that can be cultivated?  I'm thinking of Nigella Lawson: British writer, cook, mother, bon vivant. When the dog barks to go out at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, my consolation is coffee in bed and Nigella on the telly. Today was all about good-for-you food.  She lined a platter with smoked salmon spritzed with fresh lime juice and sprinkled with pepper.  In the middle, she tossed a simple salad of spinach leaves, avocado chunks and pumpkin seeds in a lime vinaigrette.  Next there were bowls of fresh figs with yogurt.  Then an anti-oxidant fruit salad of chopped mango, blueberries and ruby red pomegranate seeds.

I so enjoy Nigella's sunny disposition, her intellect, her great sweaters.  But it is her back story, her resilience in the face of losing her beloved husband and younger sister, that I respect and admire.  That she still has a citrusy zest for life - for the red, yellow and orange peppers at the supermarket, for the friend due any minute for lunch - tells me a lot.  My favorite part of the show is at the end, as the credits roll, when she inevitably reaches into the fridge for a late-night snack. This time it was more of that great fruit salad, spooned up with a dark chocolate bar.  
{Resolutions:  bundle up in the very brightest winter clothes to combat the cold . . . make spicy Mexican tortilla soup for dinner and custardy tres leches cake for dessert . . . say a bedtime prayer}

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the gratitude chronicles

Although it has origins in a New Year's ritual, this is at heart a Thanksgiving tale.  Considering that most resolutions fizzle out faster than an open bottle of champagne, I got the notion one January to attempt something out of the realm of fat grams, sit-ups and saving money.  I wanted to bask in a perpetual state of gratitude.  And I needed a tangible way to express it.  Enter the humble 'thank you' note, a natural choice for a person who writes ads for a living.  I could dash off one a day with no trouble, I reasoned, in between the projects piled on my desk.  Stationary, stamps, a favorite pen.  Ready, set, write!

The first month was a cinch, mostly thanks for gifts, deeds and memories from the holidays.  'Dear Mr. B,' I wrote our church music director.  'I'm still swooning over the midnight mass you conducted!' There was gratitude for the angel ornament made by my godson, for cranberry pistachio biscotti from my Italian aunts, for a former boss who hired my friend in desperate need of a job.  I didn't have to look far to find someone to thank each day.  Winter turned to spring as I scribbled away.  I thanked Elle, who cuts my hair, for saying I looked like Jackie Kennedy on a day I felt like Marge Simpson; and Cindy, who has single-handedly turned our street into an extended family; and even someone I read about who started an amazing after school program in public housing.  Busy keeping my end of the bargain, I was blindsided by the goodwill that began channeling back.  'I keep your note in my wallet,' someone said.  'It changed my life.'  I had entered a kinder, gentler universe with something to be grateful for at every turn.  Life took on the positive energy of a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

I would like to report that my resolve never faltered, that my output was 300+ as I barreled into the next new year.  But a topsy turvy summer found me several days, then a week, behind on my notes.  Then two. Overwhelmed, I nearly quit, but not before writing D.B. Johnson, author/illustrator of Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, a children's book so brilliant and perfect it made my heart skip a beat.  

It concerns two charming bears, each with a very different approach to life.  Henry - as in Henry David Thoreau - is much more content than his harried friend who never slows down.  When I got to the end, to when the friends share a bucket of blackberries, I took out paper and penned Mr. Johnson at his publisher's address.  'I picked up your book because of the irresistible cover,' I told him. 'And, inside, discovered a profound truth about my own life.'  In the card he sent a month or so later, the author thanked me profusely for writing him.  'The journey is the thing,' he said in closing.  'And the blackberries.'

These days I'm doing well to mail a note a week instead of one each day.  And this simple practice continues to show me just how right D.B. Johnson was.  Giving thanks - thanksgiving - truly is a journey.  One that takes us over the river, through the woods and into the deepest chambers of the heart.  You don't need a map to find the way.  Just put a pen to paper.  

© 2002.  Essay first aired on North Carolina's NPR station, WFAE 90.7

it's a brand new year!

                    Wishing you a happy, hopeful, joy-filled, 
                            creative & colorful 2009!