Monday, January 21, 2008

Wag My Tail

Here’s what really wags my tail: nice people. There is just nothing on this planet like being in the company of people who make it their business to make you feel good.

Jena at Bullseye, Baby! is one of those people. Ms. Feral at Gone Feral is another. (Warning: If you like your language clean and your thoughts pure, don’t check out Gone Feral. Mom and Dad, that means you…)

Jena and I connected a few months ago. When I found her blog in November/December, I knew I’d found a new landing pad. Jena’s blog visually reminds me of Apple’s packaging: the gorgeously minimal design, the simple instructions, the tightly constructed copy. Like Jena’s blog. I like everything she writes, but here's one that hit the mark: Letting Go of My Russian. Jena is smart, funny, wry, compassionate, genuine and creative. And check out her poetry. (Crimony! as my grandma used to say. It's that good.) I love reading Jena's posts. She’s one of my daily reads. So, I was beyond honored when she emailed me “The Daily Dose” award. Thank you, Jena!

I'm passing the Daily Dose on to Sherry. She maintains no less than four blogs, all of which are graphically appealing, insightful and meaningful. One of Sherry's blogs is Sage and Thyme. Go check her out, if you don't already. And while you're there, check out her rockin' hot new cut.

Another of my almost-daily reads is Gone Feral. Four months ago, I was pissed at the world and needed a place outside of a car full of kids to use the filthiest language imaginable in an attempt to offload those negative feelings. So I created this blog.

Having absolutely no experience writing (or reading) a blog, I Googled “best of blogs.” That’s where I found Gone Feral, nominated frequently for Funniest Blog and Best Blog, Period (not the real title, but you get the idea). And for good reason: Ms. Feral is a genius, albeit a totally skanky one (and I say that with all kinds of admiration, Ms. Feral, for both your writing and the tight-writ community you’ve created).

The first post I read by Ms. Feral was Tits Ahoy. Blog brilliance in a B-cup. She did the NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) thing, posting 30 posts in 30 days in November. So naturally, she took a lot of December and January off. I checked her out yesterday, to find that she had written a sort of recap of 2007 and named several people and posts, giving unofficial “best of” awards. Couldn’t wait to see who she listed so I could find a few new voices. Well, I’ll be damned if she didn’t list Reconstruct This as one of the best new blogs of 2007. Says Feral:

Best New Blog? Well, I'm liking Be the Boy right now, but that is not a new blog, only a blog new to me. So we'll keep it virginal and give the nod to At Home in the Queen City and Reconstruct This. I do not know where the Queen City is (is it kind of like a Twin city, but with bigger beds?) but I know funny and a blog with potential when I read one. As for Reconstruct This...what can I say? I like thoughtful writing as well as lists about pubes and buttholes. It's a funny and touching blog about surviving breast cancer. It has the emotional heft but light prose touch combo that I love about Soul Gardening. Go read 'em! Read 'em now!

Feral is one of those bloggers who is always supporting other bloggers. She constantly calls out other people’s posts. To have my blog’s name mentioned by Feral? Fabulous. Surprising. To have it in a sentence that has the word butthole? To quote my son: hella cool.

Here’s to Jena and Feral. Stellar writers. Just plain nice people. Thanks for making me feel good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Lucy Plates

My answer to the burning house question: I would grab the kids’ art. And, maybe, a couple pair of really cute shoes.

I’m not much of a collector. So I surprised myself when I bought my 2nd Lucy plate. And totally bowled myself over when I realized one day that I had seven Lucy plates. I hung them in a row above the big kitchen window.

They’re not actually called Lucy plates; they’re the Julia series, more than 500 versions of the same woman painted by artist Piero Fornasetti and produced by German china-maker Rosenthal. I call them the Lucy plates, because the woman’s circular, blue eyes remind me of Lucille Ball.

I took the Lucy plates down when I repainted the kitchen Adams Gold, and I let them collect dust on top of the fridge for a couple years after that. Ocho recently helped me put the plates back up. “What made you get these?” he asked me. “What do they mean to you?”

I loved the question. I just love that kind of thing. I love it when someone says, “Tell me something about you I don’t know.” It’s an act of love to want to know another person. Just as it’s an act of love to want to know yourself.

I got those plates as a way to define myself. To provide myself with symbols of who I was and who I wanted to be. Here’s how I described the Lucy plates to Ocho:

Lucy I: Restraint.

Openness and vulnerability are necessary iif you are to know others and to be known by others. But there are times when it makes sense to be self-protective. I’ve learned to know how much of myself to give away; how much to keep private.

Restraint is one of the six humane virtues (courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness), described so elegantly in Stephanie Dowrick’s book, “Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love.” It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. In fact, I've had it on my nightstand now for 10 years. About restraint, she says:

“Whoever we are, however we live, we need time and internal space to reflect. How else can we learn from our successes as well as from our mistakes? How else can we know what effect events have had on us, or discover how we think we have affected other people?

Reflecting, we may choose not to judge.
Reflecting, we may choose not to speak.
Reflecting, we may deepen our listening.
Reflecting, we may remember how to endure our own uncertainty.
Reflecting, we may choose to speak lovingly, rather than bitterly.
Reflecting, we may remember that not reacting can also be an action.
Reflecting, we allow ourselves to be surprised.

Restraint offers a space between intention and action and the opportunity to protect others from actions or reactions that should exist only in your imagination. The more conscious you are of that space, and the freer you are to occupy it, the more easily you can choose whether and how to act.”

Dowrick’s words teach us to ask, “What is most helpful, in this moment? What is most true, in this moment?”

This is something I’m acutely aware of recently. I made the very conscious decision on Christmas Eve to stop drinking. Naturally, this is a way to practice restraint. But the more important benefit, I think, is that it is allowing me to be totally present in my life. I am not quickly passing through this moment, waiting for the next moment; I am in this moment. And being in this moment, I am able to take a long look around in it. There are things here I would have otherwise missed. The things that make life precious.

To be continued….

Friday, January 11, 2008

I've Got the Power!

At least that's what Sherry at "Sage and Thyme" and "Journal of the Wandering Muse" thinks! Thank you for the "Roar for Powerful Words," Sherry! I am really honored to have gotten this from you! I'd like to pass it back to you, (especially for the recent True/False post) but I think that's against the "rules."

So, I'm giving it to Jena, Hedge, Katie and Deena (Sherry already honored Bella, who's not only prolific but brilliant, and Jen at Jen's Musings has this one, too.) So, here's to Jena for writing so lucidly and artfully about life's clean and messy topics; Hedge for writing with intelligence, creativity and total fearlessness; Katie for her grace and humor; and Deena for her generosity and openness. All these women have the power! (I'll provide hyperlinks this weekend when I have a little more time.)

I'd also like to mention Church, for our offline talks about life. She's the real deal.

Hope you all have a good weekend!

Sunday, January 6, 2008


My daughter Katie was reading the Roots: Part III post, when she said, “Isn’t this Ocho: Part VIII? How many posts are you going to write about him? And how come I’m not in your blog?”

I hesitate to write about my kids here because it feels like an invasion of their pre-teen/teen privacy. But Katie not only has given me permission to write about her, she is bullying me into it. Actually standing here as I write…

Here’s what I’d like to write about Katie: I named Kate after Katharine Hepburn. I had a gut feeling her personality would match, and that gut feeling was accurate.

If you look Katharine Hepburn up on Wikipedia, the entry uses adjectives like outspoken, independent, adventurous to describe her. The word that comes to mind, for me, is audacious, defined on as:

1. extremely bold or daring; recklessly brave; fearless: an audacious explorer.
2. extremely original; without restriction to prior ideas; highly inventive: an audacious vision of the city's bright future.
3. recklessly bold in defiance of convention, propriety, law, or the like; insolent; brazen.
4. lively; unrestrained; uninhibited: an audacious interpretation of her role.

Audacious describes Katie to a tee. Kate—aka Katie Bug, Katie Bird, Bird, Birdy, Kato, Kato Tornado—looks nothing like me. Some people say our eyes look similar, even though hers are green and mine are brown. And we have the same delicate, pointy chin. But that’s where the similarities end. I look Italian and Jewish; Kate looks Teutonic and waspish. I picked her up from a slumber party yesterday morning, and one of the girls lounging on the couch said, “That’s your mom?” I’m fairly certain she wasn’t referring to my super-youthful appearance, making it improbable that I was Katie’s mom and not her sister. She was referring to the fact that we look absolutely nothing alike.

I would not describe myself as audacious. I’m more like my son: slow to warm. But I am unafraid of discussing mature topics with my children, which matches Kate’s relentless curiosity. Katie was five when she asked me how babies are made. I gave her information in increments, seeing if she would be satisfied with part of the picture. I quickly found the answer was no; she wanted the whole story. So I told her. I also told her that the information was something that she would have to keep private because parents want to be the ones to tell their children how babies are made; they don’t want other children doing their job. Kate never discussed the topic with her friends. A remarkable feat for an outspoken girl with a propensity for letting the cat out of the bag.

One such cat was my forgetting to renew my driver’s license, car registration and insurance. Kate and I were driving home from school, she was in the 1st grade, when I was pulled over by the police. I got a big, fat ticket and had to leave my car where it was, meaning Kate and I had to walk home. In my defense, I was a little distracted. Kate’s dad and I had decided to separate and he’d just moved out of the house.

The next morning, I got my ducks in row (meaning I renewed all my car stuff) and later in the day picked up Katie from school. I think I was PTA Co-President that year and went into the school office to check the PTA mailbox. Kate, who loved the school secretary Judie, hung out by the front desk. “I love your yellow dress,” she said to Judie. “Thanks, Kate,” I heard Judie say. “My mom got arrested,” Katie added. “That happens,” Judie said. Fortunately, Judie believed my story.

A more serious cat—and I hesitate to even call it a cat—was a profoundly disturbing situation at Katie’s school. One of the students had told her and her friends that she was being abused at home. Katie came home from school and said we had to call the principal and tell her. She was adamant. I told her I wanted one day to think about it and to talk to some people who knew the child and her parents. I explained that it was a big deal to accuse a parent of child abuse. The next day, Kate went back to school. The child told Katie and her friends worse stories. Kate immediately went to the director of the after-school program and told her what the child had been saying. A few hours later, Child Protective Services picked up the child and notified the parents. Katie called me at work and told me what she’d done. “Don’t be mad,” she said. “I know you wanted to check it out.” I reassured her that she’d done exactly the right thing.

In elementary school, Kate’s best friend was Ben—a sweet, funny boy who after 4th grade moved to a town near Yosemite. “You look just like my cousin,” he once told her, then put his hand over his mouth and added, “only my cousin has a prettier face.” I gasped when she told me that. “Didn’t that hurt your feelings?” I asked. “No, that’s just Ben,” she said. “I thought it was really funny.”

Kate’s now in middle school, and the social scene is intense: lots of gMail, phone calls, texting. And loads of pre-teen, girl drama. But Kate holds her own, something I couldn’t imagine doing at age 11. One of the most popular phrases among this age group is “sorry no offense,” pronounced as if it were one word and used as a wild card for safely uttering negative comments. “Those jeans make your butt look big, sorrynoffense.” “Why don’t we just listen to the song instead of you singing to it, sorrynoffense.” “This marinara sauce is terrible, sorrynoffense.”

Kate doesn’t so much want to hang with me anymore since, by sheer fact that I’m a parent, I’m kind of embarrasing to be with. So, I was delighted when yesterday she said she’d go to a movie with me in the pouring down rain instead of spending the afternoon on the computer emailing friends. We saw “Juno,” a delightful PG-13 story about a 16-year-old girl who gets pregnant. The story was not so much about her pregnancy as it was about love. The dad tells her at one point in the story, “When you find someone who loves you for exactly who you are right now, that’s real love. You can do something wrong, and they’ll still think the sun shines out your ass. That’s someone to hold onto.”

I tell myself to let Katie go for awhile. You know the butterfly story; if you love something set it free... But Kate’s always been free. I can only hope that she knows that I love her, simply adore her, for exactly who she is at any given moment in time. Even when, sorrynoffense, she’s not my bff.