Monday, March 30, 2009

Words Of Wisdom

"Fear is finding fault with the future. If only we could keep in mind how uncertain our future is, then we would never try to predict what could go wrong. Fear ends right there."

–Ajahn Brahm from Opening the Door of Your Heart, by way of Tricycle's Daily Dharma.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In Sickness And In Health

Yesterday I spent part of my day gazing up at images of my very own organs, peeking in on them as they dutifully played their part in keeping me alive and in good health for one more day. 


It really got me thinking about how utterly dependent I am on my physical body, and how completely I take that fact for granted, and how that definitely stems from my desire, as a human being, to ignore the fragility of my existence, and the fact that it will one day come to an end.

It really puts things in perspective. 

Today I give thanks for being alive, coherent, healthy, mobile, independent, and loved. I feel lucky. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

That's Entertainment

I officially gave up on Midnights Children when it was due back to the library after 3 renewals. That's six weeks, people. One day I will finish it, when I no longer have to lug my reading material around in my purse, thereby foreseeing my future of scoliosis with every gratuitous word. Rushdie is not shy with his words.

When browsing the library for some new material, I saught refuge in an old companion, Ian Rankin, and his reliable Inspector Rebus. I think this is my forth or fifth of these books since the summer. They are good, quick, engrossing reads. Well-written, and most importantly, Scottish. : )

But I felt that leaving the library with Rankin alone would have been a defeat. So I browsed the aisles, hoping to find something I've always been meaning to read. Admittedly, not the most efficient way to go about this, but it worked! With scoliosis on the brain, I found a very tiny book to suit all my needs -- Breakfast at Tiffany's and other stories, by Truman Capote.  And what a captivating story it was. I had no idea. I was expected something entirely different. A 1950s fairy tale, or something. The movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was added to my Netflix queue, right after "Capote." Looking forward to seeing both.

Then, on Sunday, I had the good fortune to acquire The Namesake, which also has also been made into a movie, and quite a good one at that, I hear. 

Any literature-cinema set recommendations you can recommend? Let me know! I'm all over it.

It May Be Cold, But It's Still Spring

I couldn't help but post this poem, what with the NPR reference, the quotable platitude, the blue sky, and the Zen Buddhist themes. 

It's spring. Driving home on tree-lined Route 18 yesterday, the grey limbs of all the trees had their nails painted with red buds. If I was an amnesiac, I wouldn't believe green leaves would come of it. Thus the miracle of life reveals itself yet again. In a cosmic echo, I was on my way to get my own manicure, a rare play date for my hands. Because, why not? This life, despite what we sometimes make of it, it ain't too bad, is it?

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'

by Barbara Crooker

Today, the sky's the soft blue of a work shirt washed

a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles

begins with a single step. On the interstate listening

to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist

say, "The universe is not only stranger than we 

think, it's stranger than we can think." I think

I've driven into spring, as the woods revive

with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy

scarves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing

sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,

and aren't we just? Just yesterday,

I read Li Po: "There is no end of things 

in the heart," but it seems like things 

are always ending—vacation or childhood,

relationships, stores going out of business,

like the one that sold jeans that really fit—

And where do we fit in? How can we get up

in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,

put one foot after the other, open the window,

make coffee, watch the steam curl up

and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls

in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,

lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.

The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop

for the thousandth time. 

- from Line Dance. By way of The Writers Almanac.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sharing A Poem: What's The Matter With Puritanical?

I identify with this poem so much that I carry it around with me. It's a window into my brain. Only my cranial calculator doesn't really get going until I'm on the train, and then it cruises along in high gear until I finally fall asleep, sixteen hours later. Miles ran, dollars spent or saved, poems read, vacation days used, calories ingested and expended, the day's correspondence sent and received, places to go, people to see, lives not yet lived. 

Adding It Up

by Philip Booth*

My mind's eye opens before

the light gets up. I

lie awake in the small dark,

figuring payments, or how

to scrape paint; I count

rich women I didn't marry.

I measure bicycle miles

I pedaled last Thursday

to take off weight; I give some

passing thought to the point

that if I hadn't turned poet

I might well be some other

sort of accountant. Before

the sun reports its own weather

my mind is openly at it:

I chart my annual rainfall.

or how I'll plant seed if

I live to be fifty. I look up

words like "bilateral symmetry"

in my mind's dictionary; I consider

the bivalve mollusc, re-pick

last summer's mussels on Condon Point,

preview the next red tide, and

hold my breath: I listen hard

to how my heart valves are doing.

I try not to get going

too early: bladder permitting,

I mean to stay in bed until six;

I think in spirals, building

horizon pyramids, yielding to

no man's flag but my own.

I think of Saul Steinberg:

I play touch football on one leg,

I seesaw on the old cliff, trying

to balance things out: job,

wife, children, myself.

My mind's eye opens before

my body is ready for its

first duty: cleaning up after

an old-maid Basset in heat.

That, too, I inventory:

the Puritan strain will out,

even at six a.m.; sun or no sun,

I'm Puritan to the bone, down to

the marrow and then some:

if I'm not sorry I worry,

if I can't worry I count. 

*Turns out, Booth was a part-time Mainer.

Introducing You To David's Back Pages

Please meet David McKirachan. He is a good guy to know. He's a Sagittarius, he's written books, he talks to people every Sunday at a little white church in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and he's even available for weddings, if you book him early.

He just started a blog, David's Back Pages. (There's a blogging movement going on in my corner of Monmouth County, and it's rocking my world.) I recommend it to you. Bookmark it, follow it, or if you prefer to do things the old fashioned way,  read his books or go see him in person.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: Watt's On First, And Puns Abound

Today we are lucky enough have a first hand account of the March 7th So Watt show from my sister-in-law, who also happens to be the wife of the frontman (and the mom of the angelic blond with head turned). She was kind enough to chronicle the night for us, and give us a window into the human element of the band. As they turn into rock stars before our eyes, we are aware that they are still fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and extremely talented professionals in other fields. As Walt Whitman would say, they contain multitudes, and I think that's what really blows the crowd away. These guys, who we know from other departments of our lives, are up there, sounding really great, entertaining us, making us smile, and leaving us wondering where on earth they find the time, courage, and commitment to take on such an endeavor. 

Thanks, sis, for your report and commentary! You are 100% Grade A Top-Quality.

. . .

First Night in Asbury Park, the first Saturday of March. March 7th proved a great evening to toast a nice change in weather, friends, family, friendly faces and good music: an evening after a glorious spring-is-on-the-horizon type of day. It was good to be out and about.

“YES, He IS amazing and awesome.” “YES, I know.” “YES, I do feel lucky.” These are just a few of the in-the-moment responses I had for people in the crowd at Brickwall Saturday night.  Mostly, they were answers to “Do you get how awesome he (Jason or Jim) is? I mean, (he) is so multi-talented.” “You are so lucky to hear them play whenever you want. Do you understand what great guy(s) you have?”

YES, I TOTALLY GET how extraordinary these two men are! I still get the goosebumps hearing them play out: together, as brothers, as bandmates, as receivers of some top-quality genes. I’m proud. Yes, that’s maybe how I should have responded, but something about the night and the authentic questions just made me smile, that’s the best I did in the moment. I think that about sums up my inner emotions and the adrenaline of the night: an energetic smile. Hope that answered people’s questions well enough.

Many are saying the third set was the best Saturday night. Hmmm… I would like to nominate the first set as the winner. The impact of starting off strong, holding a beat, getting the crowd singing along, tapping their legs and be-bopping in their seats at 9:30pm was a sure indicator that the crowd would still be there and wanting more even up until the last song ended at approximately 12:32! Apparently there are codes or rules that the restaurant/bar must obey. If there was ever a time to break the rules, it would’ve been Saturday night; however, the band, with its integrity intact, stopped and thanked the Brickwall, the patrons, and Asbury Park in general.

Well, readers who attended and those that did not, hope to see you Thursday, April 2… another performance at the Brickwall by the multi-talented, amazing, cool, awesome So Watt band, including Jim Goodman (on bass), John Hakem (on guitar), guest singers and the infamous Watt duo!

And YES, I will be proud once again to call my husband and brother-in-law rock stars. They have a creative outlet that could possibly be their careers, if they ever so chose. I’m just saying: that’s really how I get it, and how I understand how they are.

Feel free to ask me that night, though, how I feel! I like being part of the band, even if by default: the member that fields the questions in the crowd confirming the inner-ness of the Watt brothers. (Find out more about your inner-ness from the movie "You, Me and Dupree" or from Steve Jobs’s speech to Stanford Class of 2005.) If not, just know that the Watt brothers follow their passions. They don’t bother talking about their dreams: they act upon them! 

Thanks, loved the music!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Antiques Report

No trip to Maine is complete until you've filled up an old cardboard box with antique purchases. My favorite shops in the Bangor area are the Antique Marketplace & Cafe and School House Antique Mall (530 S. Main St., Brewer, 207-989-9777). My Aunt, who once owned her own antique shop in downtown Orono, always accompanies me and any other takers (usually my mother and her daughter). She is known for spotting things that don't immediately catch your eye, but inevitably turn out to be great finds. She gave me the chipped aqua urn, which I would run back into a fire to retrieve if the situation presented itself. She is responsible for half of the things in my house (the other half coming from Ikea), and helped me pick up a few more things on this very nice, leisurely, stroll through the booths. Here's what I got:

Sterling silver candlesticks (AM&C)... One of the few items on my list. I can't bring myself to buy new candlesticks, they just seem to lack soul. And a vessel for candlelight should have some soul, wouldn't you agree?

Old ceramic miniature pitcher (AM&C)... Great for a small arrangement of flowers. This was actually from my aunt's booth. 

6 Hand-painted in Japan What-not plates (SHAM)... Could not resist the idea of new small plates or the deal -- $4!!! Will come in handy for cupcakes, olive oil, olive pits, shrimp tails, and general adornment.

2 Rubberstamps (AM&C)... Less "antique" and more just "used," but at $2, the paper nut in me could not let them go. The honey bear is for my friend who is quickly turning into a stampoholic, and I got the greyhound for myself, to stamp on mail going to my Maine relatives, since they are greyhound owners and lovers.

A Pyrex bowl and matching glass lid (SHAM)... $10 for less Saran wrap in my life, now that's a deal.

2 very charming shallow bowls. Mr. SevPrez gave me the "we already have too many bowls" look, but then he left, and I brought them home with me. No regrets! I think this was the future I envisioned when I registered for white plates. : )

Moose Spotting in Maine

Actually, these are just big deer. Turns out my relatives live behind a deer highway. Pretty entertaining for us city folk. I walked out to the edge of their property to photograph them hanging out on a snowy morning. I think they were amused by my pajama pants. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cross Country Skiing Is Not For Everyone...

But it's worth finding out if it appeals to you. I've never been downhill skiing, but I know that for people who have, cross country skiing doesn't have much appeal. It's a lot of hemming and hawing until you get the smooth, NordicTrack motion down, (if you ever get the smooth, NordicTrack motion down) but I like it because you can explore the woods while working muscle groups you didn't know you had. 

My uncle took us over to the University of Maine fitness center, where you can rent skis, poles, and boots for $5 with a University ID. Even if you don't fraternize with the Black Bears, you can still rent skis, but it'll cost you $11. I know what you're thinking: it's steep up here in Maine.

Once you get outfitted, there are miles of lovely trails through the woods on campus for your skiing pleasure. Lots of trees, snow, and the occasional skate skier. No moose, unfortunately. Did you know they don't come when you call? It all starts to look the same, but it's beautiful, especially if you are from New Jersey.

This was only my second try at this sport, and the first for Mr. SevPrez. He is naturally athletic, so it only took him about twenty minutes to really get in the groove. Still, we fell a lot. I am a poor turner, and I especially can't turn after picking up downhill speed. The reasons for Mr. SevPrez's spills were less predictable. But we were both able to get up without assistance. The first time I went, 12 years ago, I needed a large brother to come over, stand on my skis, and pick me up. Well, I'm a big girl now, and I was able to get up by myself after I took a few minutes to stop belly laughing and compose myself.  I really enjoyed my time down in the snow, though. This is the view.

All in all, it was a great time, and my uncle was very patient with us. Every once in a while he'd disappear around a bend, and without fail, a couple minutes later he'd reappear, gliding towards us to come deliver some helpful tips or reassurance. 

He is one of those naturally talented people who plays every sport and most intruments, cooks well, is conversant on the most important topics of our day, but is also a Buddhist, so he doesn't get all riled up about his opinions, like some people I know... I mean, like me. This is a long way of saying that not only is he an excellent ski guide, he's an amazing person to be around. The kind of person you'd drive eight hours North to visit. In March. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Call The Babysitter

So Watt is returning to the Brickwall in Asbury Park on Saturday Night. It's First Saturday Night, remember, so be sure to get there early to grab a bite to eat, get your drink, and claim your spot on the dance floor.

Since I won't be able to make the show, Jim the Drummer was kind enough to provide me with a rough set list in advance. (Look for these songs in a different order.) I think this may be my first scoop! Without further ado, here's a little preview to the three sets of music they will be turning out:

  • Who knew, Pink (Brit)
  • Brass in pocket, Pretenders (Brit)
  • Ring of fire, Cash (Bobby)
  • Folsom Prison blues, Cash (Bobby)
  • Walkin in Memphis (Bobby)
  • Hit me with your best shot, Pat Benatar (Brit)
  • Goodlovin, Rascals (Merideth)
  • I want candy, Bow wow wow (Brit)
  • American Girl, Tom Petty (J)
  • Play that funky music, Wild Cherry (Bobby)
  • Rappers Delight, Sugar Hill Gang (Bobby)
  • Me and Julio, Paul Simon (J)
  • Late in the evening, Paul Simon (J)
  • No woman no cry, Bob Marley (J)
  • Crazy little thing called love, Queen (Bobby)
  • Sweet home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd (J)
  • Glycerine, Bush (J)
  • Eight days a week, Beatles (Merideth)
  • From the beginning, (J)
  • Heartbreakers, (J)
  • Tangled up in Blue, (J)
  • Crazy about daisies, (J)
  • World, (J)
  • Woke up, (J)
  • Out of my mind, (J)
  • All along the watchtower, Hendrix (J)
  • My love open the door, Pete Townsend (J)
  • Jailhouse rock, Elvis (Bobby)
  • Your love, The Outfield (Bobby)
  • Cover Me, Springsteen (J)
  • You shook me all night long, ACDC (Bobby)
  • What’s so fun about peace…, Elvis Costello (M)
  • Heartbreaker, Pat Benatar (Michelle)
  • Love is a battlefield, Pat Benatar (Michelle)
  • Message of Love (Michelle)
  • Night in my veins (Michelle)
  • Pink stone (J)
  • Hurricane (J)
  • One in a million (J)
  • Sympathy for the devil (J)

Trading In My Popsicle Stand For An Icicle Stand

The New Yorker arrived today and it's a good one! I'm very excited to pack it up with the rest of my things -- Midnight's Children (too heavy to schlep, and therefore unread); sketches for an upcoming stationery project; the Lumix DMC-TZ5, with zoom enough to catch all those moose hanging out deep in the woods; and various clothing appropriate for cross-country skiing, running in the streets and at the state of the art university gym, antiquing, exploring the ghost town that is Bar Harbor in March, and most importantly, eating and drinking by the fire -- and we're off to the Great North Woods!

Editor's Note: I think that's the first time I ever used semi-colons in place of commas in a complicated series. Did I do it right? Are you allowed to use them in between em-dashes? What would Strunk & White do? Feel free to comment.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Guest Blog: Maine In February

I'm excited to introduce you to my second ever guest blogger, my mother! If you're a frequent reader of Seven Presidents, her reputation precedes her. So you know when she says she feels intimidated, she's one of those kids you went to school with who always said they were going to fail the test and then got the best grade in the class. But I will say this: many guest blogger invitations have been given, only 2 have been accepted. Mom really anted up with her multi-media post -- be sure not to miss the link to the fabulous video at the very end. Hopefully this will be the first of many "Dispatches from the corner of Roosevelt" to come!

. . .

The blog master thought it might be fun to hear first-hand about the wonders of Maine in February. I thought it would be fun to fill in for my daughter and healthy to get over feeling too intimidated to sub for such a keen observer and good writer. 

But to the subject at hand: Maine in February. I was in Orono last week visiting my brother and sister-in-law. Orono is near Bangor, about 3 hours mostly due north of the New Hampshire border. It’s home to UMaine’s flagship campus. It’s where the North Woods begin. When we arrived, 30 inches or more of snow covered the ground. While we were there, 20 more fell. The icicles hanging from the roof were a yard long, and the ice piled on the roof above them was a foot high. 

We were there by choice. And we don’t ski, snow-mobile, ice-fish, or moose hunt. 

So what’s the appeal? Maine’s PR slogan used to be “The way life should be.” (They have changed to something like “Worth a vacation. Worth a lifetime.” Unfortunate move.) The old one sums it up for me. To those heading south in February, I guess the way life should be is “warm and sunny.”  I’m a sucker for “brisk, beautiful, and real.”

Someone told me (I think it was on a visit to Maine during black-fly season) that he loved Maine because the severity of the conditions was a self-sorting filter that kept the faint-hearted away. 

There’s something authentic about the place. Something noble about the stoicism and practicality with which people take on the conditions. Something reassuring about the value Mainers put on--not what they own--but where they’re from. Look around. That forest primeval--the murmuring pines laden in snow. Silent beyond a Jersey girl’s imaging. Night skies better than the planetarium. Majestic. Real. I can’t help it. I love it.

On this trip, there was the ice sculpting contest along the banks of the Penobscot . The chowder cook-off at the Muddy Rudder. The lobster rolls at the biker bar. And best of all, the ride through the pristine snow, over the covered bridge. along the old mill stream, on the horse-drawn sleigh. 

I love antiquing in Maine. Sifting through the old toys, kitchen stuff, and furniture is a stroll down memory lane. (Did I mention I grew up in New England?) This sleigh ride touched memories of things heard of but never experienced: “Dashing through the snow...Bells on bob-tail ring.”  These massive horses (picture the Budweiser SuperBowl commercials) were work animals. Not Clydesdales, but Belgians. For a few Sundays a year, they pull visitors through the woods, but the rest of the time, they work in the woods, pulling felled trees out of the forest. Our sleigh driver was their owner. A true Mainer who spent the 3 or 4 miles we rode telling loving tales of the personalities of his horses--including those pulling us through the snow. He described one mare, who had had enough of showing off for the visitors during a summer stint at this same old village park and just made her way back to the barn and stayed put. “Horse of a habit,” he called her with admiration and acceptance.

Admiration and acceptance. That about sums it up.  

Click Here for a wonderful short video of the sleigh ride. 

The Newest Addition To Our Family

Finally used my gift certificate at Sur La Table and brought home a beautiful red Le Creuset 7.25 quart French Oven. It was tough to choose between red and aqua, but the red matches my KitchenAid mixer

Mr. Blogger already put it to work, cooking up a succulent meal of pork chops and rice. And we talked it over and made a house rule: no No Knead Bread unless we're having company.  We know how much we love carbs, and had visions of us devouring a loaf a piece over the course of a day. So please, somebody come over for dinner soon!!!