Wednesday, January 31, 2007



Judy, one of my book club friends, kept a record of the books she read last year, month by month. Her total at the end of the year came to just over 100 books. In my earlier years, I could have read that many books and more in a year. Now that I stare at the computer at work all day long, my eyes don't allow me to read as much. Nevertheless, I am going to keep my own log for 2007. January's total is pretty small, because I have been doing so much blogging and scanning ancestral photos for my cousins and photos of my daughter for her collection.
"The Ladies' Man" by Eleanor Lipman
"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield
"Kristin Lavransdattir I: The Wreath", by Sigrid Undset
"Kristin Lavransdattir II: The Wife", by Sigrid Undset
"Kristin Lavransdattir III: The Cross", by Sigrid Undset

As a person of Norwegian descent, I knew of the Undset trilogy, but had never read it. I certainly had seen it featured in North Dakota bookstores, at the Norsk Hostfest and at Sons of Norway meetings, but had never felt the urge to pick up a copy. This past November, I rented Liv Ullmann's movie version of "Kristin," and I was hooked. The movie covers only Part I, so I was eager to continue following Kristin's saga. For most of January, I felt immersed in the lives and times of 14th Century Norway.
I understand why "Kristin Lavransdattir" was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. It is truly epic in scope, while also telling the tale of a single person. It shows us a woman in all three stages of life - from maiden to mother to crone - set against a backdrop of political intrigue, Catholic religion mixed with pagan beliefs, Scandinavian traditions and customs, family and ancestral obligations, societal mores, and the landscape of the Northern World. I had never been exposed to a novel in which a person's spiritual life was so much more important than the secular life (a commonly-held view in Medieval times). What a contrast to my life and that of my contemporaries.
Kristen's struggle with God is always at the forefront of her story. By constantly dwelling on her sins and on her husband, Erlend's, failures, she never truly enjoys the moments of her life as they are happening. At one point, another character chastises Kristin because she keeps harping on her sins, never believing herself to have been truly forgiven. "Exactly!" I thought, "you tell her. " To use very modern vernacular, I kept thinking as I read, "Kristen, get over it and get on with it."
Yes, Kristin Lavransdattir is a flawed character, but she is also an intriguing mix of the spiritual and the carnal, of defiance and compliance, love and hatred. She is, at various times, careworn and carefree, devoted to her family or indifferent and selfish, a woman who can't live with Erland, but also can't live without him.
Whether standing tall and proud, or brought low, whether the queen of the manor or the shoved-aside mother-in-law, whether a spirited child or an overburdened mother, Kristin Lavransdattir is "of whole cloth", and that's what makes this 1200-plus page trilogy so compelling.

Monday, January 29, 2007


It's nearly the end of January and the Christmas decorations are still up. I'm always chastising my friends and co-workers who put up their Christmas decorations in November. By Christmas, they're tired of them, and can't wait to take them down.

The FIRST day of Christmas is December 25, I tell them. There are 12 days of Christmas and they last until Epiphany. I usually keep my Christmas decorations up all through January, because when you take the time to put up enough decorations to fill 10 Rubbermaid totes, and you don't finish decorating until Christmas Eve, you want to appreciate them for a while.

I feel guilty for not putting up my Dickens' Village this year. It's such a chore, even though Dan loves it. However, I now realize that I was extremely foresighted not to do so, because new puppy Gracie would have torn it apart.

But now at the end of January, I'm ready to say goodbye to Christmas for another year. It's an Olde English tradition that one should not keep the Christmas greens up after Candlemas, which occurs 40 days after Christmas and marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons.

"Down with the rosemary, and so/Down with the bays and mistletoe:/Down with the holly, ivy/all; Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall." (Robert Herrick, 1674.)

Herrick's verse reflects the superstition that traces of greenery left in the home after Candlemas will bring death among the congregation before another year is out. I've also read that the sprites that inhabited the woods became extremely angry if greens were left in the house too long.

I think I'm safe! There are no longer any fresh greens in my home. The Christmas tree is gone, the wreath is too. The poinsettias were tossed and the beautiful purple carnation and greens centerpiece is a goner.

But I do leave my collection of glittery white Christmas houses and bottle brush trees up longer. This year I scored a coup by finding a wonderful example of the cardboard house, at Wal-Mart of all places. Enclosed in a dome, it is larger than the ones pictured below. I absolutely love the frosted Christmas moon that I discovered at a flea market.

I also set up my winter garden, shown above. It features white flowers and frost-covered greens. There's ivy, potpourri under glass, topiaries, cherub statues, my prized "graveyard" angel, beaded green pears, a couple of small trellises, and a white amaryllis, white roses and white narcissus (fortunately silk, because I abhor the smell of real narcissus). This year I scored a couple more pots of narcissus, which were a steal at 75% off. I'm also keeping my eye on some white tulips, crocus and lilies of the valley that I've spotted at a store. But they won't come home to my winter garden unless they are deeply, deeply discounted.

After a while, Christmas reds and greens become jarring to the post-Christmas eye. But I think this color combination of green and white is fresh and clean and worthy of being on display until it's time for the pastels of Easter.

Friday, January 26, 2007





I find little enough to like about winter, but I do love the comfort foods we gravitate toward during this time. On Saturday evenings, we like to make gourmet dishes. On Sunday evenings you'll find us creating dishes that speak to the soul, perhaps to reward ourselves for having to get up and face a new week of work the next morning.

Our repertoire is small, I suppose, but it consists of our very favorites: Chili; beef stew; fried chicken with mashed potatoes and cream gravy; roast beef or pork with mashed potatoes and gravy ("Pork gravy makes your hair wavy," my Uncle Scotty of the wavy hair used to say.)

One comfort dish that doesn't make it to our table is macaroni and cheese. To my husband, it comes too close to being a casserole. A former Navy medical corpsman and physician's assistant, he's eaten too many casseroles in bad hospital cafeterias his lifetime. So I leave mac and cheese off our menus - it's the least I can do for him - but I used to love my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese with generous pieces of bacon.

There's something about the lightly browned top of an oven baked mac and cheese dish, or a cup of French onion soup overflowing with cheese that stretches in long strings from your spoon. Because of that reason, I love my French bistro potatoes. I watch them carefully and cover them with tinfoil just at the right moment. I never, ever let them get too dark. I almost hate to break their golden and sinfully creamy crust.

Following is a recipe for these potatoes. Whenever anyone asks me for a recipe, I give them this one. You won't find many recipes on this website. My husband does most of the cooking and does it well. He could own his own restaurant if only he was good at the business end of it. But this dish is all mine. It's very simple, with only four ingredients. But it is sumptuous. The only problem is that you can't reheat it the next day, because the cream turns to butter.


(Potatoes Dauphinois)


6 large or 8 small potatoes

About 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half

Two packages (16 slices) of thick-cut Swiss cheese

1 large carton of heavy (gourmet) whipping cream

Slice potatoes and divide them into two groups. Crush the garlic pieces and rub them onto the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 pan (I prefer ceramic pans). Layer the pan with half the potatoes. Top this with a layer of half of the cheese. (At this point I like to finely chop the previously-used garlic cloves and scatter half over the cheese.) Cover with a layer of cream. Repeat with a second layer of the potatoes, cheese, garlic and cream. Be very generous with the cream!

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, checking to make sure that the cheese does not get too browned. At this point, cover with aluminum foil and put back in the oven for another 30 minutes.



This morning I woke up looking like a raccoon with a hangover. Not only did my new mascara encircle my eyes with dark rings, but it also gave me an allergic reaction. So now I have red, puffy eyelids and heavily bloodshot eyes (so much for buying the cheap stuff).

But maybe I should wear a raccoon mask all the time. Checking out "Totems" under, I found out that "The magic of the Raccoon is in its mask. Masks are a powerful magical tool: You can achieve altered states through the use of the mask - you can become someone or something else behind a mask."
It continues, "A Raccoon totem can teach you how to wear masks for many reasons as the need arises. It can teach you how to mask, disguise and transform yourself.

"Don't you act differently with your boss, parents, children, husband, friends, strangers? These are all masks you put on. "

I certainly wear a mask at work. It's a mask of compliance, of conformity, of blandness; a mask of someone who is afraid to speak her mind, of someone who has lost her individuality for the sake of "THE TEAM."

I need to put on the mask of the raccoon, if only symbolically, to help me transform myself at work into someone self-assured, confident, powerful, calm.

I have a little clay plaque that reads, "Serenity and Grace be to this place." I want serenity and grace to be TO ME, as well. I need to wear the mask of the raccoon, every day and everywhere, to help me project those qualities, as well as physical grace, peacefulness and spiritual awareness.

Also from the website quoted above: "Raccoons also teach you how to put asleep the part of you that is not needed and awaken the aspect of yourself that is."

Oh how I need to put to sleep the part of me that is mean, insecure, angry, powerless, greedy, and blind to needs of others.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


In the book "Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge", a series of letters between two women friends, one woman keeps referring to her "little affliction". She made it sound somewhat mysterious but not life threatening. She never actually came out and named her malady but it was enough to sideline her every now and then.

I too, have a little affliction. For several years now I've had a mysterious "condition" in which I develop severe joint pain. I've been tested, but all my doctor can tell me is what I don't have: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, carpal tunnel syndrome. That's a pretty impressive list of diseases not to have, so I shouldn't complain, but still, I keep having these episodes of excruciating pain. Usually late in the evening, both wrists start to ache unbearably, or a knee, or an ankle, or an elbow. By morning, the worst of the pain is usually gone and I can function. This might occur 10 times a year.

My doctor once dubbed it "Traveling Neuralgia". Oh, I said, "a diagnosis at last!" No, he replied, that's just a description. I, personally feel I have a mild case of lupus. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that might be right, but I really can claim a great many of the symptoms shown on the lupus websites. Then too, was the strange kidney "infection" that wasn't an infection but waylaid me for a week. And most telling, in my mind, is that one day I displayed the classic butterfly rash across the nose, the distinctive marker for lupus. That was on a Saturday when I was home alone and didn't feel like rushing to the clinic just for that. So no one was witness to "The Butterfly Effect." I wish I had taken a photo.

Last night, as I lay in bed, I could feel the old insidious pain creep in, this time into the back of my left knee. By morning, I literally couldn't stand on my left leg. But I pushed myself through the pain, and by the time I left the house I felt much better. However, every time I stood up at work today, I felt the same knife slash to the back of my knee. I had to lean on my desk and put my weight on my right leg or I would have fallen down (garnering myself a lot of sympathy from my co-workers in the process).I am taking Celebrex, and I expect to get through this latest episode just fine.

But I can't help but think that my body is betraying me. I'm usually so healthy, never even getting a cold (knock, knock) when everyone else in the office is barking away with colds, sore throats, bronchitis, walking pneumonia, you name it. I hardly ever take a sick day. I'm used to moving quickly and doing what I want when I want to do it. Is this the beginning of the end of my well being? I'm not READY to surrender to ill health and incapacity. If this is what old age is like, I refuse to accept it.

Clearly, I need to do something, and do it now, whether it be yoga, walking, getting massages, or a combination of all. But, "I don't believe in chiropractic!"

Monday, January 22, 2007




A book that has really helped me increase my creativity is "True Colors", published by Somerset Studios. "True Colors", the story of collaborative art journals created by 15 extremely talented women, held me in thrall for months.

The story behind "True Colors" is that each woman started a visual art journal featuring her chosen palette: yellow and violet, the forest floor, autumn colors, and all white, were just a few of the selections. After she created her entries and decorated her book's cover, she would pass along her journal to the next artist, who would add her vision of that book's color palette. And so on. It took many months for all the journals to come back home, but what an outpouring of creativity the lucky recipients received! The journals returned overflowing with embellishments, ribbons, fabrics, found objects of all sorts.

The pages above are my attempt to create a cream, white and sepia palette. It is also a tribute to my fascination with graveyard angels. I did this series a couple of years ago. Looking at it now, I rate it quite good in terms of the color palette, pretty good in terms of materials used, and pathetic in terms of composition.



We had known for a long time that Lady, our beautiful 16 1/2 year old cocker spaniel, was fading. She was deaf, she was starting to get cataracts, she was incontinent and, because of hyperdentiplasia, she was losing all her teeth. Because of the problem with her gums, she had horrible breath. We could no longer afford to have her long curly coat groomed, and we didn't get around to it as often as we should have. Frankly, She was a mess.

But we COULDN'T put her to sleep just yet! Not our Lovely Little Lady, who came into our home when Kristen was just seven years old. Lady herself, at two months, was just a little buff and blonde bundle. Give up our Lady, who had started out as a naughty puppy making life hell for our other dog, Brandy, and then had to tolerate abuse when we got Penny, our golden retriver pup?

Lady, who had a tuft of hair on the top of her head that made us dub her "Rod Stewart." Lady, our little "frogga dogga" who splayed out on the floor with her legs stretched out behind her. Lady, who lounged on the BACK of the couch. Lady, the Pavlovian dog who salivated and ran in circles every time the microwave beeped. Lady, who snuggled up next to me for a nap, lying on her back like a person, with her head on my arm, emitting sighs of pure pleasure.

But came this past October, and it was time. She could no longer get up on her back legs. We had always said we would not let her suffer, and now she was suffering. I took her to the vet myself, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But Dan had taken Beau and Brandy, and now it was my turn. I held her and told her I loved her, and then I let her go.



My birthday card from Judy last year!

The Ladies of CRS Book Club Christmas Party December 2006

All day long last Friday, I suffered from a hangover of sorts. No, I didn't drink alcohol; all I had was sparkling cider. The only coffee I had was decaf. Yet, for hours after I got home, I had a buzz from the sheer stimulative powers of book club and my fondness for these seven ladies.

There must be some powers at work when we gather. Past meetings have featured microbursts, power outages, floods, fierce thunderstorms. We joke that we are so powerful that we unleash the powers of nature. Could we be witchy women?

How fitting that Judy, Thursday's hostess, chose to celebrate The Strong Woman. (Judy often creates themes around the topics of the books she chooses - thank goodness we aren't all required to follow suit.) She left her Christmas tree up and decorated it with apples to celebrate Eve (our first strong woman?) Our dessert was apple crisp and our drink was the aforementioned sparkling apple cider.

The book we discussed was "The Ladies' Man." Yep, a rat, a Don Juan, a gigolo, a user, a narcissist, a predator, may I say? We all agreed that at our age, we would recognize a Ladies' Man in a New York minute. But would we have spotted him so quickly in our 20s? Although none of us said it, I think we are all relieved to have 30 years' worth of experience under our belts, even though we may have a few wrinkles on our faces.

It's amazing how one topic can lead to another in our discussions. Soon we were talking about the subjugation of women, for example, the women in "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". Why are there so many male dominated societies? Is it because of men's physical strength? Women's willingness to forgive and forget for the sake preserving home and family? We wondered how many matriarchal societies there have been in the history of the world - time for one of us to do some research. Did the author of "The Ladies Man" even think of those subjects while she was writing the book? I love how one idea casts ripples that spread and spread.

We, collectively, love the idea of "The Strong Woman." I see her as the goddess in all of us.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Tonight has been a Jeff Buckley night. I have been listening to his CD, "Grace", and skimming through Merri Cyr's book, "Jeff Buckley: A Wished-For Song."
My fascination with Jeff Buckley began with a haunting song I heard on "Crossing Jordan." I HAD to find that song. First I learned its name, "Hallelujah", then I began to search for the singer. Leonard Cohen wrote it but oh my Lord, no. Not his version. Rufus Wainwright recorded a version. Better than Cohen's, but not quite right. I even listened to Gavin DeGraw's feeble imitation. Finally, I discovered that the haunting, ethereal voice belonged to Jeff Buckley. I later read that even though Cohen wrote the song, it is considered to be Jeff Buckley's song.
I bought "Grace" and listened to it over and over. I ordered Cyr's book and became entranced with the man as well as the musician. I checked out Jeff's websites and read "Dream Brother", Jeff's and his father's biography.
I learned that Jeff was the son of 60s folk singer Tim Buckley. Tim wanted nothing to do with Jeff and his mother after his birth. This rejection, of course, affected Jeff profoundly. However, it was his father's death at age 28 that ironically helped Jeff begin his career. At Tim Buckley's tribute, Jeff - virtually unknown - went onstage and played. Who, everyone asked, was that young man with such talent? He quickly drew raves for his otherworldly, (some say) eight-octave voice. "Grace" and touring brought him a measure of fame. On the eve of beginning recording sessions for his next album, he drowned in the Wolf River in Memphis, TN. He was only 30.
Jeff left a world of mourners - fellow musicians, friends and fans. His circle of friends was worldwide. Not only was he a tremendously gifted musician, but he was also a very special man: "Such a true artist, such a generous spirit", "So likable, so innocent", "On this earth but not of this earth." "Jeff was from the heart and soul." Spiritual, introspective, searching, endearing.
He profoundly affected the people who met him, with "the ability to make every person feel, even if it was for one second, that they were the most important person in the universe".
Jeff was only semi-famous when he died. I didn't know of him during his lifetime. Why then, was Jeff Buckley so important to the world of music? Because he was an inspiration to the best musicians of our time: Jeff Beck, Robert Plant, Patti Smith, R.E.M., Bono, Elvis Costello, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Bono called him "A pure drop in an ocean of noise."
He had a tremendous effect on the music industry. He was called the future of rock and roll and his music "a yardstick by which people compare other music." "Every (singer) wants to be like Jeff," said one friend, "but no one ever will."
So today, I listen to Jeff to not only hear my beloved "Hallelujah", but also to marvel at the pure choirboy voice on "Corpus Christi Carol". (Who else could take a medieval chant and put it on a rock album?)
I listen to Jeff to visualize scenes like this: "I lost myself on a cool damp night/I gave myself in that misty light/Was hypnotized by a strange delight/Under a lilac tree" ("Lilac Wine") or "Looking out the door I see the rain fall/Upon the funeral mourners/Parading in a wake of sad relations/As their shoes fill up with water". ("Lover, You Should Have Come Over")
Jeff had a premonition of his early death, no doubt about it. In "Eternal Life" he sings, "Eternal life is now on my trail. Got my red glitter coffin now, need just one last nail". In "Grace," he sings, "There's the moon, asking me to stay, Long enough for the clouds to fly me away. Well, it's my time coming, I'm not afraid to die".
On a May evening in 1997, Jeff, waiting restlessly for his band to arrive in town, waded into the Wolf River for a carefree swim. Four days later, his body washed up at the foot of Beale Street, Memphis' famed "musicians' street." I suppose that you could say of many a man, "He died too soon, too young." But I believe that with Jeff's death the world was robbed of a musician like no other.
"His death was so hard to believe because he was so godlike in his talents. You couldn't believe his life could be snuffed out. That he was mortal. His talent was so immortal. He was so vulnerable with a lot of baggage and problems to work out and at the same time he had this ascendance, talent beyond even him." George Stein

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I have been trying to journal for some years now, but I never follow through. It's not that I can't write. I am a writer after all. A former journalist, I now call myself a Wordsmith. The newspaper reporters I worked with loathed this word. However, I think it is a perfect title. A smith is a crafter, be it of horseshoes, gold or words.

So what is the problem with my previous attempts at journaling? The errors. I can't stand the the scratch outs, the ink blotches, the feeling that everything I've written is wrong, wrong, wrong. I am too used to composing my stories on the computer. There, I can re-work them as much as I want before I hit "Save". Therefore, I think computer blogging is perfect for me. I also want to combine words with pictures and images, without the cutting and messy adhesives.

But why journal in the first place? I'm no peacock, with a compulsive need to show myself off to the world. But I want to also prove that I exist outside my own head. I have a rich inner life that no one sees. I'm sure a lot of people have no clue what I am really like, including, I suspect, my own daughter. To the world, I am fat, frumpy and fiftyish. to my bosses, I am just a peon, a drone. I see myself as fey and whimsical, with not a little bit of mystery and magic and mysticism thrown in.

I have purchased a lot of books on journaling, including one titled "Writing to Save Your Life". Yes, I think journaling will help me save my life. I do have a lot of baggage to unload. It might as well be on the computer screen instead of in my brain. I'm trying to amp up my creativity, free my soul, explore my spirituality, find my self and find my way. (I'm not asking for much, am I?)