Friday, November 7, 2014


I have to look up the Latin for this so I can sound more learned than I really am.  Since I have the marvelous app "Translate" on my Iphone (Don't those Roman dudes wish they'd had Iphones back in the day? Just think how they could have plotted during Senate meetings or while using the 6-holder marble latrine.), I found the words for my new disorder--fear of being without books.  Timor exsisto sine liber!

How did this come up?  I was recently asked to be part of our local paper's Hampshire Life ID where once a week they feature a person, interviewing him or her about likes and dislikes, the favorite go-to restaurant, who lives with you, and much more.

But here's the thing:  One of the questions was, "Tell which five items you cannot live without."  Most folks answer, "My Iphone, MacBook Air, hiking boots, ergonomic chair, etc." I started to answer in the same vein but then realized I could completely live without any of those devices.  They simply are not essential to my life.

My revised list included, and this will not surprise those of you who know me: "My family, God, nature, my faith community, and books."  Perhaps you wonder how "God" can be on the same continuum as "books."  Let's think about this.

As a writer and a person of faith, I spend what some might call a ridiculous amount of time reading: Stacking books by my chair, downloading samples of Kindle books then buying them with a happy cry, studying theology, reading English mysteries, and also sampling racy Regency romances.

Here's a family story which substantiates my belief that books are essential for life.  Over a decade ago I got a frantic call from our local Meals on Wheels that my step-mother, who lived five minutes away, was not responding to their knocks on the door.  The woman said Athena always called if she planned on being out when the meal would be delivered.  Would I please check on her?

With my husband and twelve year-old daughter in tow, I sped down to my step-mother's house, prepared for something dire.  We knocked on the door--no response.  We called her number--no answer.  Decidedly nervous, we went up to the living room window, and my husband announced, "I'll just vise it open from the outside, and we can climb in to see if Grandma is ok." *

"Ok" to me meant not dead on the floor or in the midst of some ghastly end-of-life attack.  My daughter gave us a horrified look and said, "Wait, wait, don't open the window yet!  I have to go back to the car to get a book.  What if Grandma's dead?  We'll be here for ages waiting for an ambulance and I need something to read."

I need something to read.  Or, Timor exsisto sine liber.  That's my girl, I thought.  I have the same craving for a book at all times and sometimes even experience mild panic if there is no book in sight.  When I picture the end of my life, preparing to go through that dark tunnel to the light beyond, I will probably turn back to tell my husband, "Wait, wait, give me a book!  I don't have anything to read."

* (Grandma was at a doctor's appointment and was perfectly fine.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


So really, I have to ask myself, why go outside at all? Everything I need is in my hand--well, almost everything, except for human affection, food, wine, friends, and my dog.  But those are small necessities and easy to fix with my smartphone apps.

I remember when my kids were small reading the "Berenstein Bears" books to them.  One was about the week Mama Bear decided they should do without TV.  Papa Bear, in those ridiculous pants which stretched tight across his bottom, querulously asked his wife, "But how will I know what the weather is?"  She pointed to the window and told him to stick his hand outside.  "Ass-hat," she probably thought, but this being a children's book, did not say.

So I don't need to go outside anymore.  Think how much better it is for my aging skin to not expose it to all those dangerous UV rays.  And ticks.  Also biting creatures and psychotic, diseased bats.  Now, as I lounge on my couch sipping coffee in the morning, I press "Yahoo Weather" and with bated breath, wait for it to appear on my screen.  "There it is!" I murmur, looking at the image to make sure it is accurate and not showing a snowstorm in mid-June or hail when it is perfectly sunny out.  You have to watch Yahoo.

Then I scroll down to catch the forecast for the week, so I'll know if I dare go outside or not.  Also included in the forecast are the festive plump raindrops predicting rain for four separate times of the day.  Do I need to know all that?  At the bottom, below some weird map which screws with my brain, I see the sun digitally bursting out of the left-hand horizon and sailing merrily up the arc which represents the sun's progress through the day.  Why doesn't Yahoo show the Sun God, blonde hair streaming, racing through the sky in a chariot?  If you are going to do this sort of thing, let's get some Greek mythology in there.

In a happy, satisfied voice I declare to my husband, "Look, honey!  The sun doesn't set until 8:27!"  He nods and murmurs something about how great it is to have such a stretch of daylight.

But there is a part of me that is not satisfied.  In fact it is deeply, whiningly dissatisfied.  We should be out on blankets in the field (watch out for ticks!) watching the day go by. We should lie on our backs, seeing the clouds sail overhead, telling each other which shapes remind us of whales, unicorns, dragons, and one misshapen one which resembles Dick Cheney.  We should be sitting on the deck as the sun sets. sipping good IPA or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, waiting for the bats to inscribe arcs around the house, looking for the first firefly who insists on appearing before total darkness, eager to get a jump--literally--on any nearby female.

Where did we go wrong?  I want to be held by the rhythms of the earth, the sky, sun and moon, birds and insects, and anything firmly tied to the natural world.  I want to stick my hand out the window to see if it is raining and share the news with whoever is nearby.  I want to be human in an old way--the way of delight, worship, and sanity.  And if that means no TV and wearing odd blue overalls covering a big ass, then so be it.  It's a decent trade.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Have you ever noticed the feminine capacity to carve off bits of our bodies, as if we were--say-a joint at a Sunday dinner and pass judgment on them?  Do men do that?  Do they look in the mirror and say, "Crap! My nose is horrific."  I do understand there's a certain amount of nervous fussing about receding hairlines.  I get that. But this need to take inventory and cast aside body parts which don't meet our expectations?  I think this is more a woman thing.

And the stakes are higher, the cost is higher.  One day my college-aged daughter and I sat on the floor, backs against the couch, and had one of those conversations I think only women can have together.

"What parts of your body do you like?" I asked, knowing that she also carved bits off her corpus, putting some into the "okay bin," some into the "almost okay bin," and others into the "hideously unsuitable bin."  Notice there is rarely a "Fabulous bin."

"Umm, I like my feet."  She wiggled her toes.  "Nice and narrow, like yours.  Only prob. is finding shoes that fit."  "Yeah, I have that problem too.  Skinny feet."  They barely make the "okay bin."

"What about your nose?" I asked.  "Oh, crap, way, way too big," came back immediately. "Yeah, your grandpa Dick had a big nose, and I got it too," I said.  She gave me a look that told me she was definitely unhappy with this genetic inheritance.

"Legs?" I murmured.  "Yeah, I actually like them.  They have a good shape.  You have great legs, Mom."  Wow, I felt I should open a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate.  We both had found something we could toss into the "Okay and almost fabulous bin."

"Arms?"  "Not bad, as long as I work out."  She held them in front of her, turning them in the afternoon sunlight.  We both have fairly slim arms and wrists, hands and legs.  I gather the arms could go into the "okay bin."

By comment consent we did not mention the word "stomach," as just about no woman I know is happy with hers.  Although my daughter did mention the word "six-pack," as in--"I have been working out and I've got some muscles there."  So this can go into the "mostly okay bin."

"Hair?" I ventured.  "Ack!  Nothing more to be said.  Way too curly, way too thick, impossible to figure out what to do with it."

"Yeah."  I nodded.  I had spent all of my considerable adult life toying with, fighting, hating, sometimes accepting, but mostly disliking my hair.  It is only now, in my 60s, that I have almost, almost come to term with my very, very curly hair.  I now let it go natural(after a good cut, of course!), using fabulous hair products for curly hair provided by jessicurl.  My husband loves this look, as does my daughter.

Alors.  Body parts are scattered over the floor.  We need to put them together somehow.  I search through my tatty brain, looking for the right words, healing words, words of acceptance.

"I think," I said slowly, "that we come to love our bodies more as we age."  She gave me an unbelieving look. "Really.  As you get into my decade you are grateful for just being upright, on this earth, having teeth, eyes that work, hands that can grasp, legs that dance, and feet that still work.  The key is gratitude.  I remember something my mother told me three days before she died."

"She patted her own leg as I sat beside her and said, 'I don't say, Annie, I wish this leg worked better.  I say, blessings that my leg still works.  Thank you.'"

And that's what we need to do.  Maybe instead of little rubber bracelets that say, WWJD, we need bracelets for women which simply say, "Thank you." My daughter took this in, and I hope that someday when she is looking at herself in the mirror and disliking what she sees, she will remember this conversation and whisper, "Thank you," to the mirror.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The time of year is upon me which maximizes guilt, corrodes my sense of self-worth, and convinces me that I am actually sub-human.  While flailing about in this morass, I figured out that there are things I should never do as I approach Christmas.  Which did not keep me from making lists and attempting them.  Warning:  Do NOT try these at home.

1/ Go on a diet and join Weight Watchers.  I was full of fine resolutions, set to take off the 6-7 lbs. I'd put on when my torn meniscus kept me from exercising my ass off.  I won't mention that I went to my favorite Italian restaurant each week for awhile and ate Tiramisu for dessert.  Clearly, that had nothing to do with the weight gain.  When I went for the weekly weigh-in shortly after Thanksgiving I was shocked.  Shocked.  I had put on weight instead of taking it off!

2/ Give up drinking wine.  When I realized that the case of fabulous Sauvignon Blanc, Wither Hills from New Zealand my husband gave me was just about gone after only 6 weeks, I thought, "Hmmm, I should probably cut back on my wine consumption.  This will be good for me."  I'll let you know how she does with this.  Like Dick Nixon, it is a sign of my fragile mental health that I refer to myself in the 3rd person.

3/ Acknowledge that your life is self-indulgent, and it is way past time to start pulling in the reins.  Give up so much consumption.  Forget about the 1-click ordering from, even if the book you want is some hefty theological tome by N.T. Wright or C.S. Lewis.

4/ Resolve, after grabbing a cup of strong coffee and a biscotti or two, that the money you will save from buying less, skipping for a month, and reducing wine consumption can be given to the Survival Center.  This is a good idea, right?  It is truly something I want to do--to take in less and give out more.  But somehow, this feels like having a blister lanced on the bottom of my foot or perhaps a rectal exam...
I wish charity were easier and didn't require so much sacrifice.

5/ Exercise more.  This is a wonderful idea, particularly when you live on an icy hill that is over 1200 feet in elevation, your driveway is as steep as a foothill in the Alps, and your torn meniscus is still screaming, "Sit down, you dizzy broad!"

6/ Decide to make home made gifts for everyone on your gift list.  This is what I seriously wrote down: "Make apple butter and pack in sterile jars for friends.  Label with pretty red and green Christmas labels."  Really?  Then I had written down, "Make Grandma Warren's spicy cinnamon walnuts to give away.  Pack in festive bags from Michael's."  Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.  In fact, while you are about it, just go to jail.  You are locked into your delusional need to over-achieve and try to please everyone.

7/ Resolve that your dog needs to be better cared for, groomed, and cleaned before Christmas and before your daughter returns from college.  This entails:  clipping toenails.  Wait, that doesn't work with Jacks.  Brush daily.  Not a good idea.  Dog insanely circles around trying to bite the brush.  Brush her teeth.  While you are at it, wipe her tush and make sure she is truly clean.  Really?

8/ Make a home made wreath using stiff grape vines from the land and weave in clippings of hemlock and white pine.  Decorate with fragile little nodules of grass and dried thingys from the garden.  Two hours later, a glass of Sauvignon Blank is a necessity and completely blows #2.

9/ Join a choir.  Anywhere, any church, any faith that has singing.  Just join.  And sing your little heart out whether you actually like Christmas music or not.  Failing this, link up with a hearty band of middle-aged carolers in town to sing Christmas songs in sub-zero weather to people who are watching reruns of Dr. Who.  This will also blow #2.

10/ Decide to knit your husband a pair of socks at the last minute, never mind that there are only seven more days until Christmas. This would necessitate staying up until midnight instead of doing what I really want to do which is: collapse on couch, a glass of wine nearby, read some books I surreptitiously ordered on my Kindle, and hide the beginnings of a supremely drab gray sock under the couch.

Instead of numbers 1-10, here's an idea for all of us:  Accept yourself as you are, with all of your imperfections and odd little deposits of fat in places you didn't even realize could get fat, like the roof of your mouth.  Maybe cut down from 2 glasses of wine to 1, but by God enjoy it!  Burn the half-completed wreath in the fireplace.  It makes festive flames.  Send e-cards to people because they are so, so much easier.  Forget the apple butter and Christmas walnuts.  Buy something from your local HBA and wrap it in beautiful paper.  Put on a CD of Christmas Carols and get into the holiday spirit without getting hypothermia.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Would it shock you to discover that I am nostalgic for bed jackets? Barielle products? Tangine lipstick? Evening in Paris? Stockings with seams on the back? Handwritten letters? Typewriters that don't plug in? Phones that weigh at least 5 pounds with no capacity to record messages, interrupt conversations, or do anything more strenuous that carry two human voices? (Although there were those old party lines which I remember at my Aunt's house up in New Hampshire.)

Recently, I have discovered a lamentable tendency to dream about older times and things I loved. (Forgetting the horror of petticoats bunching in my behind on hot days, waiting to be asked to dance, spit mascara and more...) Perhaps this is related to my being 67.  Could it be?  At any rate, I find that sitting with a cup of hot tea (cream and 2 sugars) and flipping through The Vermont Country Store is tantamount to some people ingesting hydrocone. (I know this from having a total hip replacement 5 years ago.) I immediately feel a sense of relaxation and calm sweeping over me, a lifting of the mood, a sweetness tinged with nostalgia.

And this all came about because I was reading a book in the "Aunt Dimity" series (Nancy Atherton) which is about as cozy as you can get without actually melting into brown sugar and frightening the children.  An elderly lady in the book was in bed wearing a bed jacket, of course, padded and satin with a bit of lace at the wrists.  This reminded me of my beloved maternal grandmother Henrietta Gray, who also wore bed jackets when in bed.  I believe they were pink.  Somehow they conveyed to me an aura of security, not of sickness at all.  It's what one wore when in bed.  To keep warm.  To show that you were cared for and relatively secure.  I actually went online to the Vermont Country Store to look at them this morning and was sorely tempted to order a purple velveteen quilted version that just looked--cozy.  My husband, who usually supports most of my purchases, was happy that I hadn't fallen prey to this one. "Bed jackets!" he moaned, as if I had suggested I was about to become a pole dancer.

But just think.  Online I could have ordered one of those cool blue glass bottles of "Evening in Paris," which I remember Mom's cleaning lady giving to her for Christmas.  At the time, we did not consider it the most wonderful perfume in the world (ah, the nostalgia of judgment!), but I'd give anything to have one of those bottles resting on my dresser now. It doesn't matter if you like the smell or not, it's what it represents.

And what about Tangee lipstick while were at it?  Remember that violent orange color, sort of like the backs of certain poisonous lizards which would kill you if you so much as tapped their backs?  You'd put it on (I did use it when 14 years-old) and by God, it would never come off.  You'd go to bed with these day-glow lips shining in the dark, and when you woke up and went in to brush your teeth, there they were again, like rubber clowns' lips that you couldn't take off.  I feel a certain nostalgia for Tangee lipstick.

Must I remind us of dusters or house dresses as my grandmother called them?  You can order these, too, from my favorite Vermont Country Store.  I'm not quite sure how the current owners envision their customers using these "Dusters."  Is it a more complete form of lounge wear, after you've cast off the bed jacket and propelled yourself out of bed?  Or is it more how I remember my grandmother changing out of her good clothes to pull on a housedress for dusting (see, "Dusters"!), or puttering around, putting her beloved flowers into vases or watering her vast collection of sprawling green plants.  It meant you were up for business.  In a sort of cozy Victorian way. I just loved the comfort those dresses implied.  But what did I know back then?

Any more nostalgia floating about?  Oh, yes.  Typewriters that just type and don't have to be plugged in.  I had one of those once.  A Smith-Corona which took me through college and my first early attempts at writing.  It made a satisfying clacking sound which assured me that I was, in fact, busy; that I was accomplishing something; that perhaps someday I might even be a writer.  And if the power went out during a thunderstorm, no problem!  You could keep writing.  Perhaps you're thinking, "What about a pen and paper, woman?"  Well, I used to do that about two decades ago, but my handwriting is getting a bit slip-shod these days.  Maybe a sign of age?  Or maybe a sign that I simply don't write much by hand any more.

My first editor at Harper & Row, Charlotte Zolotow, used to say that she could always tell when her authors switched from writing by hand to computers.  The writing was not as sharp, she told me, not as clearly thought-out.  I don't think I'd agree with that, but it was her own form of nostalgia.

So, as I used to do when writing pictures books for children, circling around at the end, while we're talking about nostalgia here's some memories: Thunderstorms crackling over the dry-board porch at my grandparent's summer home; ice cream made in a hand-cranked tub; lemonade made with real lemons, sugar and lots of ice; playing kick-the-can in the lawn with my brothers as the dark descended and the fireflies came out.  It was a good life.  For some of us.

Ok, surprise ending: The N.Y.Times Science Section today has a piece on "Fond Remembrances," by John Tierney, about the uses and value of nostalgia! If you want to listen to nostalgia-inducing songs, go to:  Looks like fun.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


It must be some kind of virus, a disease that makes my eyeballs skitter towards health news in various publications, online news feeds, etc.  Why, oh why, do we need to know anything else about protecting our bodies?  I hate to tell you but--WE ARE GETTING OLDER.  SHIT HAPPENS.  FEET GET GNARLY.  BLADDERS BECOME TESTY.  HAIR TAKES OFF FOR JAMAICA LEAVING US BEHIND.  AND LET'S NOT EVEN TALK ABOUT THE BACK OR THE KNEES.

So now one of the biggest pieces of "I am going to kill any possible shred of joy left in your life" news is, "Sitting is the new smoking."  Yes indeedy do.  Sitting consecutively for more than 3 hours at a time (some say 6 hours) contributes to: Diabetes 2, obesity, heart problems, and a host of other things including extreme crankiness and an inability to understand James Joyce.

As I sat in my Weight Watchers meeting two days ago (yes, those last few stubborn pounds love my belly and have no intention of ever leaving), the leader chirpily informed us of this horrifying news.  We came up with fabulous ways to keep moving, as in: keeping hand weights near the TV so we could do reps while watching "American Idol"; parking far away from the center of town to make us walk; getting up each hour to waltz around the room etc. etc.  I suggested buying a Jack Russell Terrier as my method to get up and moving.  It works, trust me.

Not content with practically ruining my happiness at sitting at the computer and writing (Dear Lord, I am actually dying as I sit here and write...), some other health organization whose name I have forgotten, probably due to overconsumption of twinkies when I was young, now tells us that egg yolks are terrible for our health.  Bad, bad, bad with a severe wagging of the finger at those of us who happen to like the occasional egg on a morning with some great coffee.  Where were these people ten years abo when the news first came out about these dangers?  Egg sales plummeted.  We got used to eating other things for breakfast--like steak.  I kept consuming modest amounts of eggs because they are a terrific source of lutein.  This is a fine phytochemical which helps those of us with Macular Degeneration (probably caused by watching too many "I Love Lucy" reruns). Lutein is marvelous for your eyes, and though I hesitate to contribute to yor physical collapse, I'd suggest you just not listen to this latest health bulletin.

Here's my informed and wise advice:  Walk at least 15 minutes a day, 30 if you have a dog, preferrably a Jack Russell.  Drink red wine.  Not a lot of it, mind, but at least one glass daily with perhaps a small top up.  Use olive oil on your food.  Put tumeric and cumin in your beans and other recipes because they are anti-inflammatories and very good for you.  Eat lots of veggies and fruit and moderate the red meat.  Here's the important part--laugh a lot, it's good for you, and keep up with your friends.

And, of course, being the religious nut that I am, it's clear to me that faith is good for you.  As long as it's not the kind of faith that tries to strong-arm the rest of the world into its own belief system, or the kind that takes out assault rifles know the rest of the story.

We need to take ourselves way, way less seriously, and enjoy our short tenure on this beautiful and precious earth.  I believe it was Thomas Aquinas who once said, "Do you know why angels can fly?  Because they take themselves lightly."  Do I hear an Amen, anyone?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Ok, fellow aging broads and broad-ettes.  Or, broaderinos.  If you are like me, you tend to cruise along occasionally reading the N.Y.Times Science section and getting horrendously guilty afterwards (I am not single-handedly saving the world from climate change!  I have not given 2 billion dollars to the eradication of malaria!  I could use my cholesterol numbers when playing the lottery, they are so high!), then let go of all that blamed information that is making us crazy and go have a glass of wine, or two, on the deck.  Or perhaps download a new crappy romance onto your Kindle--with the exception of "50 Shades of Gray," which doesn't qualify as writing.  Ever.  Or erotica.  Ever. Don't make me go into details.  It's too embarrassing.

So, I tend not to worry too much about my health, with brief episodes of sweaty dismay, but every now and then something rises up to slap me in the face.  It could be something like a disheveled and olive-sized parathyroid which had to be removed.  By a man with an English accent!  It made it all bearable, trust me.  Or, it could be an operation for carpal tunnel syndrome, which did t'job, as the Brits say.  We won't mention colonoscopies.  I am not an admirer of those.  But recently, I decided to do something about the fact that I peed somewhere upwards of 20 times a day.  Yes, that is right--twenty, as in, please don't ever drive too far away from a bathroom, or perhaps we could put a clivus multrum in a little trailer and tow it along with us wherever we go, even if it's only10 min. down the road to pick up the N.Y. Times.

I ordered lots of books over Amazon, my favorite addiction; read up on OAB, and decided I had that.  OAB.  It should mean: "Overactive Amazing Broad."  Or, "Officially Amazing Bitch."  Or something of your choice which is way sexier than, "Over Active Bladder."  What happened to partying naked?  Dave Barry brought that up years back when he spoke of his cronies getting together at parties to discuss their degenerate gums, crowns, and painful dental procedures that attempt to keep teeth inside your mouth.  Then they would josh each other and say, "Remember partying naked?"  Doctors tend to rear back when you bring up something with the word "naked" in it, also "partying."  As I did with my new doctor who was going to help me "retrain my bladder."  (This involves tiny whips and lots of treats...) That is about as opposite to "partying naked" as you can get, I think.  I left the office thinking that he probably has summed me up as a slightly crazed older lady who has swiftly read through the entire "50 Shades of" horrendous series.

I realize that you probably already know more about my body than you ever thought you wanted to know.  I am aware that keeping a "pee diary," except we call it, "void diary" (as if you had just lost part of your brain and were wondering where it had gone to...), and scheduling your pee visits is not something you really, really had to know. I just don't see all of this as me.  It doesn't fit my inner image of me.

The tragic thing is, all the substances I love most in the world--fresh orange juice, zesty tomato salad, chilled Chardonnay, frothing hot lattes, dark magic coffee, and chocolate--are not kind to the bladder.  Perhaps we need a new name for that little disobedient organ, something slightly sarcastic and amusing like, oh, Mr. Rumsfeld.  Or Cheney.  "How are you doing today, Cheney?" I could ask, and no one would know.  Wouldn't that be cool?

In retaliation for going from Over Abundant Blessed Broad to that....other name....I am going to go get my toes painted and my fingernails at the marvelous Cambodian nail place over at the mall.  I go there to relax.  I can't understand a word any of the young women are saying, but it sounds as if they are cracking each other up with witty jokes, sharing news of desperate boyfriends, and maybe talking about luscious food they are planning for the evening meal.  Instead of actually talking about their very own...Mr. Cheney.

And after that, maybe I'll buy a motorcycle so I can convince somebody who is at a distance with rather poor eyesight (think Mr. Magoo) that this hot dame in black leather is about to take off.  With her very own Mr. Cheney in tow.