So, I’ve made a commitment for a show of my work, my art work, in January. For the first time in 21 years.

(See, my dear journalist friend, I do know how not to bury the headline; I just prefer doing it the other way. Except for today. Except that it isn’t really, actually, today’s headline; you’ll see.)

And so yesterday, instead of writing or sewing or vacuuming or grocery shopping, I made cyanotype prints and showed my daughter a bit about how photography works (as in “where the sun hits the paper, the paper stays blue”) to which my daughter responded, “cool!” And I thought, well yes it is pretty damn cool, isn’t it; and I wondered exactly why it is that I don’t do this more often.

Which is exactly, precisely, what I wondered again a few hours later when I was cooking dinner for my family and some impromptu visitors. Why don’t I do the things I truly enjoy more often?

I remember watching, years ago, an NBC special on aging in which the oldest living adults were asked a variety of questions about their lifestyles and habits. The reporting quest was to identify some common element, some link that would illuminate the dark secret behind living a long life. The people interviewed came from around the world. They were men and women, black and white, all of whom reached or crossed over the 100 year mark. Some were vegetarian, others were meat-eating, whiskey-drinking smokers.

And they did, all of them, have one thing in common: they did not stress over the choices they’d made. The Parisian smoker smoked without regret; the marathon-running vegetarian ate what he ate and ran the way he ran because he enjoyed those things.

If this same program were made today, I suspect hundreds of things would be different. We know so many things now that we didn’t then, about genetics and environment and aging. The one thing that would not be different, I’d wager, would be the common thread of attitude. I’m no doctor, but I am 100% certain that negative stress – the worrisome, anxious, fretful kind – is a killer.

I was thinking about this idea while listening to the completely hilarious Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! episode with guest Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States. If you missed the show, do yourself a favor and listen to the podcast, featuring “Surgeon General vs. General Hospital,” Paula Poundstone’s attempt to remember Rod Blagojevich’s name, and some side-splittingly funny predictions about the next Dr. Seuss book.

Anyway, before he was quizzed on his soap opera knowledge, Dr. Murthy, whose vision is “to build a culture of prevention,” shared some thoughts, with considerable good humor, about health in the United States and his goal as Surgeon General. The specific question posed was what else we all needed to do to be healthy, other than not smoking and making sure to exercise and eating more vegetables and fewer cheeseburgers. “What’s the next thing that we love that we’re going to have to give up?” Peter Sagal asked. I expected the answer to be “sugar,” which has been Auntie Dr. Margaret’s crusade for the past few years both for her patients and for her sister. But sugar was not his answer; in fact, he didn’t advise giving up anything. Instead, he offered this:

“There’s actually one other thing that I think is really important, and that is being happy.”

Yep, that’s what the Surgeon General of the United States advised for better health, be happy. Science can’t prove why (yet), but it seems to make a considerable difference.

And so I’m off to make some more cyanotypes (the good kind of blue) and then make another batch of David Tanis’s spinach cake, which I make with twice the leeks and half the spinach, because I adore leeks and only sort of like spinach. Because doing things I enjoy makes me happy, and I suspect the same is true for you, too.

Happy week.


Food | Week of July 27, 2015

You know what else makes me happy? Having a dinner plan for a whole week, and putting it at the end of my weekly posts. So I give up on keeping the food stuff separate from the writing stuff, which I’ve been trying (very unsuccessfully) to do since January. So there.

The line-up, posted on Dinner Prompt, is this:

eggplantSpicy Eggplant  | Salad with Mint, Arugula & Parsley
Grilled Chicken Tacos with Mango Salsa
Blueberry & Kale Salad
Pan-fried Turkey Cutlets with Spinach & Blue Cheese Salad | Macarons
Flank Steak | Israeli Couscous | Broccoli Rabe

The specific recipes we’ll be using (as guides, if we use recipes) are these:

  1. Spicy Eggplant Salad with Sesame Oil
  2. Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango Salsa
  3. Best of Summer Kale Salad with Blueberry-Balsamic Vinaigrette
  4. Blue Cheese & Spinach Salad
  5. Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

A room with a view.

room with a view

The cat lives upstairs, in a three-compartment suite comprised of two bedrooms and a bathroom. The bedrooms each have human-sized beds, and the bathroom has two small cat-sized beds that formerly belonged to Build-a-Bear creations and now belong to the cat. All three rooms have sunny windows and secret hiding places and the comings-and-goings of puberty-aged children and the occasional excitement, when the weather changes, of a jumping spider or cricket or cockroach from the fireplace, drawn irresistibly to crumbs on the plate that my teenage son forgot to take back to the kitchen.

On the one hand, you could see this situation as a cat-version Waldorf penthouse, replete with every amenity, including room service. But on the other hand you could see it as the Tower of London, though without the looming threat of execution. All of life depends upon your perspective, even for cats.

Though she has always been a refugee, the cat’s exile has not always included restricted roaming ground. Once upon a time she was free to eat the asparagus fern in the living room and claw the furniture and follow sunny spots from window to window as the days progressed. In those salad days she shared the house with three cat-seasoned dogs who took one look at her, yawned, and went back to sleep. That was then; this is now.

Stella (that is her name) came to our house by surprise. One afternoon my step-sister-in-law called to say that she’d found a tiny black kitten in her yard, and that her cats did not like this kitten, and that her Scottish terriers liked the kitten even less, and that the poor kitten’s mother had probably been hit by a car or eaten by coyote, and wouldn’t we please consider having this kitten as a pet, couldn’t she just bring the tiny thing for us to look at.

And I said, trying to be polite, that I would think about it because I was on my way home from picking up the children at school, and that of course I would have to talk to Bernard, and that surely Penny remembered that we had three dogs didn’t she (of course she did), and that one day when it was convenient for both of us certainly she could bring the tiny thing over. And Penny laughed and said OK, because what Penny knew that I did not know was that she was calling from my driveway.

So I pulled into our driveway and shrieks of oh Mama, oh Mama, Aunt Penny brought us a kitty cat! erupted, and so we got a cat. An itty-bitty tiny black cat that fit into the palm of my husband’s giant paw.

Bernard wanted to name her T.C. because she was, in fact, a tiny cat, and, he suggested, she was a street cat and needed an ironic street name, preferably initials.

tiny catWell I’m going to call her Stella, was all my son had to say, and we thought that was a very sophisticated name for a five-year-old boy to select, and so it was agreed. A month later I would learn, at a sleepover drop-off, that my son’s friend Vito had a new baby sister and that the baby sister’s name was Stella, after the beer. When I whispered to ask if the cat had been named for Vito’s baby sister, my son beamed with pride.

I would love to tell you that Stella Cat mourned her original canine companions when, one by one over the course of three years, they crossed the rainbow bridge. But she is not that kind of cat. In fact she is stereotypically aloof and terrible, but she is very pretty and mostly, at least in her old age, sweet to my children. Also, she is resilient, a quality I respect and admire in any living creature, even one that occasionally regurgitates hairballs.

When the chocolate Labs, the first arrivals in our current pack of dogs, came into the house, they announced themselves by giving Stella chase and leaving her with a hole in her flank, an unexpected turn of events.  Thus began her sequester. Doors were rigged to afford cat-sized access only, no dogs.  Stella would peer cautiously from one of the openings, judge the path clear and then race down the stairs to safe haven  on top of the dryer, by the back door. She would then go outside and prowl at her leisure, usually disappearing for 24 hours or so, long enough to remind us that ours was a residence of choice, not requirement.

As she has gotten older, saggy belly swinging when she walks, she seems to find greater satisfaction from her indoor living arrangements, preferring a child’s drool-covered pillow to the cobwebbed shelf by the leaf blower. She eventually befriended one of the Labs, the male, who often seeks out her company, calling on her in her quarters and letting her walk around his legs and purr while he wags his tail. He is her plaything; he will forget all about her when he rejoins the others of his kind. She does not care; she is not that kind of cat.

It’s possible you are thinking that a cat story was not at all what you expected to read here today, possible you are surprised to learn that there is even a cat in my house, a house marked clearly as dog territory and we as dog people. Every now and then it’s a good idea, I think, to mix things up a bit and wander outside the lane markers. All of life depends upon one’s perspective, even for cats, especially for humans.

Happy week.

Stardust and princess slippers.

pink tutu

Here’s what I know about careening toward 50, the age I will reach in less than a month:

You walk by a mirror and wonder just who the hell put an old lady costume on your 36-year-old self.

If you are one of the handful of readers for whom 30 is a distant, looming part of the future and you are thinking that, whoa, 36 sounds pretty old all by itself, then just file this whole thing away for future reference and hope that you get here eventually. Irrespective of the wrinkles and sagging fanny, getting older is still preferable to the alternative, that alternative being, namely, dying.

There are a few other things I know about reaching the half century mark, some of which are more palatable than others, one of which is that 50 is definitely not 40. By 40 you’ve likely figured out who you are. By 50 you’ve likely figured out who everyone else is and that fewer of them are really with you for the long haul.

By 40, I think, you either are or are not the person willing to say, discreetly but directly, “you have spinach in your teeth.” By 50 you know who will say it to you and whether they’re motivated by protecting your welfare or poking at your self-confidence. It’s easier at 50 to know how to handle people who fall into the latter category, but no less disappointing than it was at 15 to accept that not everyone is your friend.

Sometime around 50 you’ll strip your youth of its haze, whether happy or sad, and come to accept your past as simply past. Also that the real Prince (or Princess) Charming might be hairy or scarred or balding but never, ever mean.

You’ll know who wears a twirly party hat in good fun and who’s still training as a method actor. You’ll know, with greater clarity than before, how to recognize one of your own. In my case these are the people who’ve used black Sharpies to cover bleach spots and given presentations wearing mismatched shoes. By 50 you know you must protect these companions to the bitter end.

It’s possible, though not given, that by 50 your knees and knuckles and neck will ache, and that better living through chemistry comes to mean something entirely different to you now.

It’s probable, though certain, that a young person will treat you as a doddering old fool. This is most likely in an Apple store or Claire’s, although it’s equally possible from a telephone software technician who can’t see your grey hair but knows your birth date. Also from your children, who will be quick to boast that they could get a much higher score on that Lumosity speed match game than you can.

You’ll think more carefully, perhaps, about what to do with what’s left, knowing from statistics that it’s likely shorter than what’s behind. But this is a weighty thought, and the very last thing you want at 50 is extra weight. Trust me on this, if nothing else, because, well, #knees and #cholesterol.

By 50, if you’re lucky, you’ll know in your heart that life is a jumble of happiness and depression, that the glass is sometimes half full and others half empty,  or maybe, to an engineer, just poorly designed.

You might decide, by 50, that smart trumps pretty and kind trumps everything. Not everyone will reach this decision. This is the thing, above all, that by 50 you’ll know absolutely.

Not everyone will decide to gaze at the moon or remember how to giggle or dance in the kitchen to a 70s soundtrack. Not everyone will have a concrete foundation but an open mind and heart. Not everyone will strive to forgive and forget, or to keep growing and learning and letting go of unimportant things.

But you will, if you choose to. So, I hope, will I.