Friday, January 30, 2009

One Last January Birthday

Tomorrow, the last day of January, is the birthday of a very important person in my life, my husband. I found the poem that follows when I was on a mad hunt for readings for our wedding. I was not so keen on the whole idea, seeing as how I am a professional quote aficionado. Corinthians, Apache Blessings, Shakespeare's Love Sonnets... Yawn. I am so jaded. But our very wise and persuasive minister insisted that we draw out our wedding ceremony in order to savor it. Because, as he put it, the ceremony is not something that happens on the way to cocktail hour. It's actually the most important part of the big day. 

I read this poem by Barton Sutter, and immediately fell in love with it. (Come to think of it, it was not unlike how I felt when I first met my husband. I just knew it was perfectly right.) But I thought the poem was too weird, offbeat, or even inappropriate for the ceremony. With this preface, I read it to him anyway, as we drove across the Verrazano Bridge on the way to meet our minister. His question was, "Why can't we use it? It's perfect. It's us."  

Things like that–that's why he's the best. Nothing gets in his way. He's a poet, an Ironman, a b-baller, a cook, a spiritual advisor, a husband, a son, a brother, a great friend to many, and my best friend.

I love Your Crazy Bones

By Barton Sutter

Even your odds and ends.

I love your teeth, crazy bones,

Madcap knees and elbows.

Forearm and backhand

Hair makes you animal.

Rare among things.

The small of your back could pool rain

Into water a main might drink. Perfect,

From the whirlpools your fingers print

On everything you touch

To the moons on the nails of all ten toes

Rising and setting inside your shoes

Wherever you go.

Barton Sutter, “I Love Your Crazy Bones,” from Cedar Home.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Watt's Going On?

One day I will run out of Watt puns, but not soon. So Watt played another show at the Brickwall ( sorry for the no-notice), this time for a Fundraiser for Judy Hopkins, who suffers from RSDS. The band was in the window next to the entrance, and it was nice to have them front and center. They sounded great, lots of classic tunes and catchy originals. 

You may be more enticed to watch my video of the band's rendition of "American Girl" this time around, as you can make out Jim the Drummer in the neon glow of the Brooklyn Brewery sign. Before you click play, make sure your speakers are turned all the way up. For the video, and the complete set of photos, click here

One more thing. I wonder if the band is ready to start taking requests. I have a few...

1. "Don't Change" by INXS. Don't you think it sounds really fun to play? 
2. "You Said Something" by PJ Harvey. Actually, this is a request for my brother's solo act, but it still stands.
3. Lastly, it would be brilliant to come up with a four person instrumentation of "The Obvious Child" by Paul Simon. I have no idea how this would be accomplished, but I definitely think it'd be worth trying. As far as I'm concerned, it's the most exuberant song ever written. Can't you just see the Ewoks dancing in your mind?

What do you think? Do you have any requests?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Crap, as in... Crap"

If you don't giggle at this article, you may be dead.

I can't sum it up, just read it. 

Your inner seventh grader will thank you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Three Library Books Yield One True Gem

With my New Yorker subscription on sabbatical, I was bold enough to check out three books during my last visit to the library. My palms were sweaty, but I did manage to read all three books in three weeks, something I probably haven't done since college (when it was more like three books in one week -- how did I ever graduate?). 

Of these three books, I saved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz for last. I had heard great things, but was not sure of the first few pages. I pressed on, and low and behold, it's the best book I've read in a year. I highly recommend it if you like classic American tragedies in the line of Faulkner and Fitzgerald, but want to read something newer and rougher around the edges. If Faulkner is Southern Gothic, Diaz is Caribbean Gothic. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of the Leon family, tracing it's cursed history back three generations from Paterson, New Jersey to the Dominican Republic. Diaz includes copious footnotes that explain his references to Dominican history and culture, since he doesn't expect his readers to know much about Trujillo and what went on behind the Plantain Curtain.  For instance, he tells us we shouldn't feel bad that we don't know about the two American occupations of the D.R., since our kids won't know we occupied Iraq. Oh snap! The history major in me really lapped that one up. 

It was a compelling read. In the end, I was satisfied in knowing the complete story of the Leons, but sad to let them go. These characters stay with me much in the way that I carry around the Compsons, Sutpens, and Bundrens. Diaz weaves a fabulous tale of obsession, betrayal, escape, and ultimately, murder, all the while managing to keep his characters' profoundly identifiable human vulnerability in the forefront. Oscar Leon's unhappy ending will cause you to be thankful for your luck in having a modicum of good sense in this beautiful and cruel world.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Celebrating Mom

This was a big weekend. My mother turned 65 on Friday and we gathered the entire family together for dinner on Saturday -- all the kids, the grandkids, the aunt and uncle and cousins and baby cousins. It was good times in close quarters.

We fit everyone at one long table for dinner, Aunt Rose Thanksgiving style. Keep adding tables and place settings and eventually everyone will fit. A good mantra to have.

And it worked! Here we are!

I always say that if it wasn't for invitations and other paper products, I wouldn't host so many parties. They get me so excited. I had a lot of fun looking through all the family photos to find the best shots for my place cards. I scanned the old pictures, downloaded a polaroid template, fitted and cropped all the snapshots, and added each guest's name with a Sharpie. They were a big hit.

The kids played with my president statuettes, and even brought their own addition, our newest presidential action figure. Talk about big hits -- I think Barack Obama had the fifteenth seat at our table.

We had cake and ice cream and Mom opened all her gifts. My nieces gave her great handmade presents, and there was lots of presidential paraphernalia to admire. Love of the presidents runs in the family, like most things do. Lots of new memories were made, and as our family grows, I think we all look forward to many more big, crowded, hot, sweaty parties. I know I do.

For the entire party photo album, click here.

A Poem For Mom, From Me


I heard a man on the radio say that
if we did not have the expectation
of arriving home
we would not be able to bear the day.

I say that in the accumulation of days,
in their piling up like mountains --
though you may call mine a foot hill --
the view from the top is a panoramic homecoming.

I read that home is where your mom is,
Stitched on a lavender scented pillow,
with a ruffle around the edge.
This wisdom need not be taken literally.

From the top of my life's early mountain,
the clouds drift off to lower lands and
I see you in myself --
your reflection all around me in the unobstructed sky.


(c) 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009


I feel a little silly that the one Times crossword puzzle that I do, the one that comes in the magazine, is technically an easy one. Who's to judge? I started doing them around Christmas. In the past I was stopped by the fact that I could only get about three answers to my first run down the clues. But I guess I've developed more patience in my 27th year, and with that, my crossword mind is developing, slowly but sure. But I still haven't completed an entire crossword. There’s always about three clues in a side area that baffle me, but they don’t effect the rest of the puzzle, so I let them go.

Well last week’s really stumped me, even after I got the theme “High Five” -- with 5 letters repeating... You guessed it — O-B-A-M-A! Usually the older or extremely academic cultural references get me, anything with “#1 song in 1976” or “BBC frequent commentator Phillip.” I mean, come on! 

I had been feeling a little defeated about this week’s puzzle situation, until I went to
Rex Parker’s Times Puzzle Blog. He labelled it easy, and finished it correctly, and seemed to be unphased by the whole deal, but when I read through all his notes, I felt so validated! I had made a lot of the same misakes he had, even if I a) hadn’t known they were mistakes or b) knew my answers were incorrect but had nothing else. Made me think I should keep at it. And one day, yes, one day, I really will complete all answers of the puzzle -- even without googling for answers on my Blackberry! Having Rex’s blog will console me until that day. 

Sharing a Poem

When I read this poem I was immediately reminded of my mother, even though she would never in a million years feed a nuthatch out of her hand, owing to her fear of birds (a long story without definite origin). I hear my mother in the narrator's logic, her unquestionable commitment to an unlikely and joyful endeavor, coupled with her dignified and reasonable repose.

Today is her 65th birthday. She is still as beautiful as ever. Her age only shows in the size of her heart and the enormity of her wisdom.

I love you, Mom!

Winter and the Nuthatch

by Mary Oliver

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,

the timid nuthatch will come to me

if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.

The first time he did it

he landed smack on his belly, as though

the legs wouldn't cooperate. The next time

he was bolder. Then he became absolutely

wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,

the nuthatch was flying into a stranger's hand.

To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.

I wanted to say: Mister,

that nuthatch and I have a relationship.

It took hours of standing in the snow

before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.

But I didn't say anything.

Nobody owns the sky or the trees.

Nobody owns the hearts of birds. 

Still, being human and partial therefore to my own 


though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—

I'll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Words Of Wisdom

"You cannot change what you will not confront."
-Bishop T.D. Jakes, January 1, 2009


Today is a great day in the history of our country, a day I am proud, happy, and astonished to witness. For a time I had believed that we were inching closer and closer to Babylon, sometimes even leaping. 

Today is a beam of hope amidst our murky history. Let us keep in the sunlight.

 How are you feeling today?

Friday, January 16, 2009

So Precious

The New York Times has a really great piece in their Op-Ed section today comprised of letters from children to the President-Elect, "Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice." It should make you smile. 

These kids have a variety of cute and profound things to say, but I really like the angle take by Chandler Brown, 12, from Chicago.

Dear President Obama,

Here is a list of the first 10 things you should do as president:

1. Fly to the White House in a helicopter.
2. Walk in.
3. Wipe feet. 
4. Walk to the Oval Office. 
5. Sit down in a chair. 
6. Put hand-sanitizer on hands. 
7. Enjoy moment. 
8. Get up.
9. Get in car. 
10. Go to the dog pound.

— Chandler Browne, age 12, Chicago

So Cool

Today is my father-in-law's last day at work. When the five o'clock bell rings,  he will officially be retired. He has been feted several times this week by coworkers, friends, and family, but perhaps nothing reveals how well loved this man is better than the party he went to this morning. On his train. 

He described it himself as "an extravaganza, with my picture posted in three cars, banners, mimosas, danishes, fruit cups, gifts, a poetry reading, cookies, candy, cheeses, coffee and tea, and an announcement by the conductor as we pulled into Newark Penn Station that I would be retiring today."

I am really lucky to have the in-laws that I do. They are 100% awesome, and everybody knows it. : ) 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's In Store?

I just ordered a lot of felt -- where-am-I-going-to-put-it amounts of felt. But it was such a great deal, and I found a wholesaler online that has a lot of really great colors. I take most of my inspiration from colors, so this is a big deal. Your run of the mill craft store only has shades elementary school teachers would need: red, gold, green, black etc. I ordered Apple Green, Peacock, Charcoal, Ruby, Red, Cranberry, Lagoon, Smoke, and Navy Blue. Now that's what I'm talking about.

Now that ornament season is over, I am hoping to make some pillows. More on that later...


Friday, January 9, 2009

Blast From The Past

The Writer's Almanac informed me that today is Michiko Kakutani's birthday. She is pretty much the most notorious book critic in the world. I did not know this when, twelve years ago, I wrote a wrote a spunky letter to the editor  of The New York Times in response to her article bemoaning the fact "that all of America has entered seventh grade." I was in tenth grade at the time, and I look great offense.

Reading her piece again today, I'm wistful for the days when our biggest problem with the Vice President was that he "describes himself as a deadhead." Ahhh, the 90s. 

10 more days to Inauguration day. 

356 days until this decade is officially behind us. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

And Michelle Obama is the Coolest Lady Alive...

The Times is featuring a great slideshow showcasing Mrs. Obama's acute fashion sense. Also worth noting: her poise, presence, stature, smile, and grace. I didn't know how much I craved a role model until she came into my life. Ladies and little girls alike can look up to Mrs. O!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jimmy Carter is the Cutest Man Alive

Listening to Malcolm Gladwell...

Involves a lot of laughing. The man is a firecracker. A really calm, cool, collected firecracker. I guess, more specifically, Gladwell's wit is the firecracker. He knows how to tell a story, connect that story to another one, succinctly explain the academic research that fits the two together, throw in a streetwise parenthetic anecdote, coin the perfect analogy to make sure that you really get it, and -- just when you think he's rambled off topic -- he ties it all together with a perfect Martha bow to answer the original question. Anyone who's ever hobnobbed with overachievers at a fancy college or watched too much PBS can really appreciate how awesome it is to find a person with such a gigantic intellect who is also accessible, unpretentious, funny, and quick on his feet. 

Gladwell was at the 92nd Street Y to answer questions about his new book, The Outliers. Since this is the same guy who wrote The Tipping Point and Blink, odds are this book is going to be huge. When there's throwaway exposition in "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" about a tipping point, you know the man's idea has really hit the main stream.
Megan Wheeler: The one-five's overwhelmed. There's too many clubs, too much crime. The mayor is worried Chelsea's reached a tipping point.
Mike Logan: Tipping point?
Megan Wheeler: The last moment before an outbreak turns into an epidemic. 

Like I was saying, the world finds this guy's ideas pretty useful.

He talked about a lot of fascinating things in the new book, some of which are on his website. I won't presume to sum up his thesis, except to say that the book is an attempt to find more contributing factors to success beyond the mysterious label of genius, and the magical story of the self-made man. He posits that both of these are not useful ways to think about achievement. They're non-starters. 

I think the most useful thing he said to our particular audience of New Yorkers was his advice New York City parents that drive themselves crazy trying to get their unborn children into the top pre-K private schools (2 more points for the move to the suburbs). His recommendation? Throw a dart at a board. All the private schools in New York are great -- the difference between the best and worst private schools in Manhattan is statistically negligible. 

Which sort of tied into another point he made about how kids are sorted and selected into the fast and slow tracks in their single digits, in education and in sports.  So your kid is an early reader. It makes you feel good about yourself and your child's future, but so what? As he put it, once you can read, you can read! "We're done!" There is no body of literature that kids are reading between the ages of 3 and 6 that will make or break their future effectiveness in society. That point elicited a lot of chuckles from the crowd, and maybe even a few sighs of relief.

The moral of the story, as I see it? The heroes we annoint -- the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Armstrongs, even the Obamas -- they all arrived at their position in life as a result of hard work and ingenuity, and a complicated matrix of circumstances. We should be careful not to be seduced by their creation myths. It is a testament to Gladwell that, with Outliers, he is able to give those myths a run for their money. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Snap-Crackle-Pop Goes A Great Idea

It was my guest blogger and ingenious coworker's turn to bring in food for our biweekly office meeting this morning. What did she bring for us? [Drum roll please!] A cereal bar!!!

She even brought bananas and different kinds of milk. Unbelievable! Instead of gorging myself with glazed doughnuts against my better judgement, I got to eat a petite bowl of Stawberry Fields with soy milk. Thanks LD for keeping the New Year's Optimism alive!

Getting Ready for the Inauguration

I just got a cool video from my Aunt D: morphing presidential countenances from George Washington to Barack Obama. I have always been awed and intrigued by the office of the presidency and the men who have filled it, and watching the video piqued my interest once more. Who were these men who led our country and what exactly happened in their charge? All my intellectual curiosity was wiped away, however, when the video got to Carter and the presidents started showing their toothy grins. The gravitas was gone.

You can check out the video here. To answer any questions you might have about Millard Fillmore or Howard Taft (yes, he's the one that got stuck in the bathtub), check out the U.S. President's Reference Guide on the sidebar. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"It Was Late in the Evening..."

And they blew us all away...
Photos from the So Watt Show at the Brickwall, December 30, 2008.

For more (and larger) photos, and murky video, click here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chariots Afire

First breakthrough of the year: while dusting my husband on the way back from a run on New Year's Day (What's that? He's one-kneed you say? I say I take no prisoners, and no excuses) I realized that it has actually been a solid year of running for me. No injuries, no lazy spells. That sounds like a good base to me. I'm healthy, I'm pretty fit, and I'm ready for a purpose again, so I'm going to do the New Jersey Half Marathon in May. 

The best part about the Jersey Half? No motels, no travel time, home field advantage, and the 12th man

It's been awhile since I've taken on a half, my favorite of all distances, and in the mean time, my dad has been breaking the sound barrier in all sorts of races, including two marathons. He'll be joining me on May 3rd, and I'm sure he'll finish about 20 minutes faster than me. I should mention that he is 30 years older than me... At least I have good genes.

I have finally abandoned Coach Hal Higdon, and am going with this program from Runner's World. I even made my own color coded spread sheet and everything. 

Are there any other takers? I think 3 runners = team t-shirts...