Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween! (A Middle-Aged Glance Back ...)

I wish I was able to share a few photos of spooky around-the-house decor, as so many of my blogging buddies have done. I love the jack o'lanterns, the black cats, the witches-on-broomsticks. Truth is, we just don't decorate much for Halloween. We do have a little fluttering ghost that we usually hang on the front porch, but he's not been rescued from the back of the closet this season, and at this late date, I don't see much point in dragging his ethereal butt out. He has a sign that hangs from his neck that's supposed to say "BOO" -- but one day Rocky pointed out that the B looked much more like a D, so we named him "DOO." (You have to say it in a deeply resonant, ghostly moan: "Doooooooooooooooo...")

Alas, there'll be no play for Doo this Halloween. Maybe next year.

I have such fond childhood memories of Halloween! When I was in either the 1st or 2nd grade (please don't ask me to be specific - it was a long time ago!), I attended my school's Halloween carnival dressed as Bozo the Clown. As I recall, I won a prize for best costume. I also remember feeling, for perhaps the very first time in my young life, like a complete dork. Oh help, I'm a clown! Many of the other children were made up as miniature hippies -- pint-sized replicas of the counterculture revolutionaries taking the country by storm in that mid-60s era -- and therefore they were cool. Looking at that old (I guess it's truly "vintage" now) photo of my Bozo-self as I stood on the doorstep of our house on Tanglewood Drive, I think, "What an adorable, creative costume that was!" Too bad little Jen didn't quite appreciate it at the time.

I remember dressing as a gypsy in the 7th grade and being allowed to wear makeup -- something I'd never done before. I draped myself in Mom's scarves and bangles and bobbles, and she applied deep, sooty black mascara to my little blonde lashes. What a beguiling, exotic creature I'd suddenly become! We wore our costumes to school that day, and I distinctly recall standing behind a tall, gangly girl in the cafeteria lunch line who turned to me and exclaimed, "Wow! You should wear makeup all the time! You look so much prettier!" As I was still an innocent and not yet prone to viewing every comment as a potentially passive-aggressive slight, I took that as a supreme compliment. And I'm pretty sure that shortly thereafter I began wearing mascara, which I now consider one of those "wouldn't even want to be on a desert island without it" necessities.

The church I attended during my teen years wasn't into the benign "Fall Festivals" that churches hold these days (though those do seem more fitting for a Christian organization than the type venerating demons, gore and supernatural phantasm). Oh, no -- we always had an honest-to-goodness haunted house as the highlight of our youth group's Halloween extravaganza. For years it took place in the big old rural barn owned by Mr. Melvin Wood, which the adults of the church transformed into a maze of blacklighted horror. We kids traipsed through in groups, clinging to one another in absolutely delighted fear, screaming like banshees as we went. Severed heads, mad scientists, wolf men, and a plethora of other creepy creatures in turn reached out to grab and paw at us, invoking shrieks of teenaged terror as we made our way through the wicked labyrinth. At the end of the maze, we were flung out of the barn by a long slide extending from the hayloft. Now that was fun!

When I was in the 9th grade, the slide wasn't there. Instead, the line-up of ghouls included a guy in a mask who chased us kids out of the barn with a chainsaw. (Well, that's one way to be rid of those pesky adolescents.) My fearless and outspoken girlfriend Sam had accompanied me, and as we ran wildly through the cowpie-laced field with Chainsaw Guy hot on our heels, she suddenly turned to him and screeched, "FUCK YOU!" At that point, he ceased his maniacal pursuit, and I began to sweat. Oh, we were dead. I was certain of it. Here I'd brought this "heathen" girl with me, and she'd yelled a horrible obscenity at someone I went to church with. Probably a deacon. I remember agonizing for the better part of the following week, riddled with fear that Sam's vulgar admonition would somehow land me in hot water. Of course, it never did. And in all likelihood, Chainsaw Guy deserved it.

Another element of the church carnival was the hayride. Mr. Wood hitched up a cart to his rusty tractor that was large enough to accommodate a good number of rowdy kids, and beneath the starry sky we were hauled around the bovine-scented pasture. Mr. Wood was the only adult chaperone present and hey, he was driving so his back was turned. Supervision was most definitely at a minimum, which naturally led to the hayride becoming synonymous with an itchy makeout session on wheels. The more chaste among us simply sat close together and held hands, but the kids destined to lives of ill repute (oh, we just knew that they were -- we also desperately wanted to be them) paired off and snuggled down into the hay and engaged in a moonlit rendition of God only knows what. Sadly, I was never one who so much as got her little hand held on the Hayride of Love, as boys that I liked didn't seem to like me back, and vice versa. (Except for once at camp, when doe-eyed Kerry Jordan, on whom I had a raging crush, tried to kiss me and I pulled away so violently that I conked my head on a tree and practically knocked myself senseless. He never made a second attempt.)

Oh ... How fortunate we are to have memories of laughter-filled times gone by! I may now be middle-aged and no longer an active participant, but Halloween never fails to induce a certain shiver of excitement in me that can only be the stirring of ghosts of a delightful past. Three giggling hobo girls kicking down neighborhood streets, a brisk wind whipping fallen leaves into their path; a bright plastic pumpkin overflowing with sweet treats, eating so much candy corn that I thought I'd literally burst; devils and Supermen, ghosts and princesses, the masked, smiling eyes of overjoyed children ... I remember it all so clearly, and with so much fondness in my heart.

Whether you're simply reminiscing or making new memories this year, may you enjoy a hauntingly happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No, I'm NOT a "morning person"!

OK, seriously -- how is it even humanly possible to "rise and shine"? How can one truly be all chipper and cheery in the morning? Believe me, I've tried. No, honestly -- I've worked at it, yet I still find myself grumbling and grousing in the heart of who I really am. Oh sure, outwardly I project at least some small semblance of a happily adjusted, smiling sweetheart as I'm going through the morning motions, but I wonder ... am I fooling anyone?

When my brother Zack was small -- maybe 2 or 3 -- he'd wake in the morning or from his afternoon nap, and if you dared even glance in his direction, he'd pull the thumb he'd been sucking from his snarled lips and hiss, "Don't look at me!" My sentiments exactly.

My brother's youngest. It must be genetic ...

I guess I've just never been a morning person, and will likely never be. I do manage to rise before the alarm sounds most days, but it's a gradual kind of groggy awakening that (I kid you not) often stays with me until well after lunch. Just a vague out-of-sorts feeling, where all I want to do is crawl back beneath my nice warm quilt and not have to face the world. My morning commute, a mere 3.9 miles, is by no means grueling. But maneuvering through crazy downtown traffic, dodging (my fellow) nasty drivers does not provide a gentle immersion into one's day. Too, once I'm in the office it's difficult to muster much enthusiasm for the repetitive work that I find myself doing on a daily basis. And -- aaack! -- Horror of horrors, people are talking to me, attempting to engage me in conversation! Nooooo! Make them stop! In times like this, I must continually, repeatedly remind myself of my blessings ... and really, they are plentiful -- but perhaps having them tattooed prominently on the back of my hands is in order, so I'll always be mindful of how full and sweet my life actually is. (Just kidding about the tat, Mom. Maybe.)

I've already told you I love the weekends. Now you know why. There's something so wonderfully comforting about opening my bleary eyes in the morning, and not having to face the grind. I might actually be a slightly more pleasant person if I could just stay at home, instead of having to venture out into the world every day. Especially with a nice pot of tea to warm me, a piping fresh homemade muffin to feast on, and nothing but glorious free time on the agenda. Ahhhhhh, sounds like bliss!

"Nooooooooo ... Don't LOOK at me!"

::sigh:: So now you know of this early-in-the-day temperament of mine -- Petulant, cantankerous, most disagreeable. "I really want to bite your head off; sadly, I must refrain". Beneath the sweet smile lurks a morning monster. Consider yourself warned. ;-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


You know, there's a lot that can be said about tea. The vast historical significance, the practice of "taking tea" as an artform ... Well, I'm just going to say that I like it. Very much. Only recently, however, have I become a true devotee, having preferred coffee for most of my adult beverage-drinking life instead. There's something a bit more refined about tea that appeals to me. Too, I firmly believe that it's a healthier choice than coffee (although I do hope that my java-imbibing pals won't be inclined to disown me).

Teabags. I once used them, but now prefer the much more robust, flavorful tea that only comes from steeping leaves. (My tea seller claims that teabags are merely filled with tea dust -- and I tend to believe her. Or maybe I just really dig the small jolt of snobbery that making tea the real way gives me.) I buy my tea online from and am extremely pleased with their products and service. (In my next life, I want to be as gorgeous as Phuong, one of the founders of Ono. As my 3-year old nephew would say, "Chick-a-WOW-wow!" I'm going to keep up the habit -- perhaps drinking tea makes you pretty!) Thus far, my favorite Ono teas are Mighty Athena, an organic green enhanced with notes of ripe strawberries and papaya, and Creme Earl Grey, a smooth combination of classic Earl Grey and cornflower petals with vanilla overtones and soft hints of cream. Delicious!

My Ono teapot -


I think I "need" a cozy for my teapot. Yesterday I discovered these gorgeous creations on Aren't they sweet? I'd have a very difficult time choosing between them!

My mom is an expert in the art of taking tea, having earnestly studied the subject after her interest (or was it her taste buds?) became sparked on one of her first trips to England. And boy, those Brits - how they adore their tea! (I recently read that the average Englishman consumes 2,000 cups per year!) I've made a few journeys across the pond to visit our friends who live in a little thatched-roof cottage in Wiltshire, and each day always began with tea, with countless breaks during the day for a "cuppa." Even when we were out very late, returning to the cottage after midnight, completely spent from sightseeing activities, our hosts always insisted upon putting on the kettle for one last cup before shuffling off to bed. I don't think I've ever been so caffeinated in all my life.

Longacre Cottage in Wiltshire, where we've enjoyed many a piping hot cup!

Having tea with Rocky and Mom in London.

At one of Mom's lovely teas -

There are numerous health benefits associated with regular tea drinking, among them: Improved cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of cancer, and boosting immune functions. There is some evidence that drinking tea may also help control weight and prevent osteoporosis. At any rate, it's such a warm and comforting thing to do -- why not enjoy a few cups today!

A trio of vintage Clarice Cliff teapots. Colorful, funky, and fun!

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis~

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wabi Sabi and Other Stuff ...

Have you heard of Wabi Sabi? Sounds like sushi. Or a Star Wars character. But it isn't -- it's a Japanese expression that means "wisdom in natural simplicity." According to a little book I have called "Living Wabi Sabi," it is imperfection, or more fully, appreciation of the value and beauty of imperfection. Wabi Sabi celebrates the preciousness of all things imperfect, which is truly all things. The way of Wabi Sabi honors the quirks, the oddities, the perfectly imperfect uniqueness of you and me and everything. Wabi Sabi highlights the value of objects, events, and the entirety of life "as is" -- unpolished, unpredictable, and natural.

I think of this concept from time to time, and am amazed at how simple it seems on the surface, yet how multi-faceted it is in its application, and how very profound. It seems all too often my inherent tendency is to automatically discard that which is imperfect. I see that which is flawed as being of little value, needing to be replaced by the pristine. It's easy to catch myself doing this when I think of my home, as quirky, odd, and imperfect are most definitely apt descriptions of this little old place. But I also tend to extrapolate the concept. It takes a bit more honesty to admit to myself that I quickly find the flaws where people and circumstances are concerned. I am so eager to cling to whatever I can find that is unpleasant, that I fail to observe the beauty, the value of all around me. Wabi Sabi means to embrace, to celebrate this life of imperfection. It is to live with an appreciation for the timeworn things, and a compassion and understanding for the flaws that make us all human. It requires for me a complete shift in thinking, and it takes a good deal of effort. But I think it's a most worthy goal, and I'd really like to incorporate more and more Wabi Sabi into my life every day.

Wabi Sabi doesn't mean that we should not strive for improvement, but it releases us from being enslaved to the ideal of a perfection that simply does not exist.

So. From Japanese wisdom to apples! This looks a bit like a container of French fries, but it's delightfully delicious dehydrated apples that Rocky makes for me about once a week. Jody, my mother-in-law, brings over a supply of fresh apples, and they're sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon and left in the dehydrator for about 15 hours. They're wonderful cut up and tossed into my morning oatmeal, and are great to snack on throughout the day. Oh, and I can't forget to mention that when they're dehydrating, the aroma is heavenly!

Here's the dehydrator! We got rid of our microwave (yes, we're backwards!) and put this in its place. OK, truthfully, I don't miss the microwave at all. We use the stove and the oven a lot, and it works for us to do it the "old-fashioned" way.

I feel practically pious with good health when I'm munching on natural, dehydrated goodies. And then Rocky has to go and bring home something like this ... Oh my ... Eeeeeevil!

And speaking of old-fashioned ways, I want a clothesline in my backyard. I want to be able to line-dry clothes and linens on warm, sunny days. For now, I hang most of my clothes to dry in the kitchen. Rather makeshift, but it does the job!

Lastly ... just a picture of the kitties' colorful bowls!

Remember this - very little is needed to make a joyful life. It is all in your way of thinking. ~Marcus Aurelius~

Goodbye, Mr. Hillerman.

One of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman, has passed on. He was 83 and residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he died yesterday of pulmonary failure. I began reading his works in the early 90s, and Dad and I took along his books on tape as we traveled together throughout the Southwest, riding down the dusty roads of the Navajo Nation, which is where most of his stories were set. He penned his tales in order to instill a respect in his readers for Native American culture. "It’s always troubled me that the American people are so ignorant of these rich Indian cultures," Mr. Hillerman once told Publishers Weekly. "I think it’s important to show that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways."

"I want Americans to stop thinking of Navajos as primitive persons, to understand that they are sophisticated and complicated," he once said. Occasionally, he was accused of exploiting his knowledge of Navajo culture for personal gain, but in 1987, the Navajo Tribal Council honored him with its Special Friend of the Dineh award. He took tremendous pride in that.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hillerman. We will miss you.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you --- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ~Edward Abbey~

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lazy Sunday ...

"Let's have a lazy day," said Rocky, first thing this morning. Well, it doesn't take any more than that to convince me to lounge around in my jammies and do absolutely nothing of value all day long. Actually, I'll take that back. The older I get, the more I find intrinsic value in simply being. We're all so attuned to doing and accomplishing, that I think sometimes it's just such a pleasure to merely exist in the moment, doing absolutely nothing in the process. I intend to keep having as many of these days as I'm allowed.

I'm not too elitist to admit that our lazy days involve watching lots of television, and I particularly enjoy the old classic flicks. Oddly enough, while I'm a fiend for color, I actually think the movies were better in black and white. Today I watched an old Cary Grant movie, and since Halloween is fast approaching, I once again enjoyed "The Birds" -- gotta get into that creeped-out frame of mind! I also was mesmerized by a documentary on people who collect vintage snapshots, as I too love old photos and have several displayed in my home -- photos of people I do not know, but their faces move me.

Here's a lovely vintage photo of a Mexican woman (that I foolishly let get away from me on eBay!) ...

Lazy days are often spent upstairs in our bedroom. It was converted from attic space in 1948, to become the bedroom for the teenage boy who lived in this house at the time. I still correspond occasionally with his sister (whom I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting right before we bought this place), and she recently told me that on hot summer nights when the air stood suffocatingly still downstairs, her entire family of five would sleep upstairs in brother's bedroom, beneath the window unit air conditioner. Other than those rare occasions, she and her sister were not "allowed" in big brother's room without his express permission, which he seldom gave.

The bedroom retains its original knotty-pine paneling, and being in the space is like being enveloped in a warm, cozy embrace. This room is a special place -- I love it here.

This little corner shelf belonged to my great-grandmother.

And speaking of old photos, I love this one of Rocky. I believe this was his kindergarten picture. Click it to enlarge, and you can see that the little guy was obviously most displeased about having it made!

Long Live Laziness!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Around The House, Part I

Oh, how I love the weekend! I tucked into bed early last night with a new book I've just started, "The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets" by Eva Rice. Mom and I both devour good reads, and this is one of the latest that she's loaned me. My Grannie was a librarian in her younger years, and I spent countless hours as a child surrounded by shelves and stacks of books at the Hurst Public Library, where she worked. I still love visiting the library -- it's a little like a treasure hunt each time I go.

As always, the cats woke me earlier than I would've liked today, but it was nice to rise in a chilly house, slip into a warm bathrobe, and pad into the kitchen to start the kettle for morning tea. And yes, I switched on the heat in the house as well. The thermostat will probably be turned back to cool before the day is out -- it's that time of year when the seasons can't quite make up their minds as to which of them gets to be boss. Ah well, I can still tell it's going to be a gorgeous day. The sun is peeking through the windows, stirring our little family to greet it (check out those eyes!).

I'd like go and vote today. I'd also like to visit an antique mall and perhaps a thrift shop or two, as I'm searching for a small chairside table to go in our bedroom sitting area. And as always, I'll savor spending time at home -- surrounded by chaotic color and cats!

These are the cool earring and bracelet holders that I recently got from an Etsy seller. Finally! I'm organized!

I love this little couple!

Here's another handsome pair --

There's a (Tatouage) chicken in the hallway!

Just more color ...

Finally, I mentioned Mom earlier, which reminded me of the photo that Dad sent me yesterday, of my brother and Mom with brother's new car. I just wanted to share what a beautiful lady my Mom is. She just turned 69 years old, and look at her! She's amazing!