Monday, December 29, 2008

A Merry Christmas, Indeed

I historically have thought of Christmas as a time of angst and tension -- as something to be gotten through rather than enjoyed. However, in keeping with my relatively recent commitment to renounce struggle as a way of life, I decided that this year would be different. "The holidays don't actually have to suck; this year I'm choosing to see them as good and fun," I told myself. And I meant it. And it worked!

Last Thursday was spent cooking for and spending time with most of my somewhat unorthodox, but completely lovely, family circle: my fiance's three children, my fiance, his ex-wife, her boyfriend, and his mother. It was just the eight of us, and I think that a good time was had by all. My parents and brother were in NC for the holiday, and I missed them very much (this is only the second Christmas that we have not spent together), but I had a nice chat with all of them and felt that we were together in spirit.

This Christmas for me was about thanksgiving more than anything; in fact, my urge to say "thank you" to the powers that be was even stronger on Christmas Day than it was on Thanksgiving. One of our family members who had been in the hospital for several weeks was released the Tuesday before Christmas and was able to join the family celebration on Christmas Day. This was, for all of us I believe, the very best Christmas present imaginable. The oldest one of our ranks had been through a serious illness earlier in the year, but she made a recovery and was in fine form on Christmas Day, which was another wonderful blessing.

It may sound trite, but there really is no greater gift than having your loved ones alive and well and spending a very happy and convivial day together with them, is there? Gifts purchased at the mall or over the Internet, while good in their own way, pale in comparison to having a good time with people you love.

Thank you, thank you, for letting us have such a wonderful Christmas this year. May all the joy and well-being of that day remain with us as we head into 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O, Helga Natt

As those who know me well can attest, I'm neither a Father/Son/Holy Ghost believer nor a fan of the schlocky Christmas music that all the restaurants and retail stores insist on playing from Halloween to New Years. I also am not a big fan of the tenor voice and generally would much prefer to hear a good bass-baritone. However, this version of "O, Holy Night," sung in Swedish by the late Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling, is a piece of Christmas music to which I can happily listen over and over again. Hearing this particular version of this lovely tune makes me think that maybe there is something holy about this night after all, although I might disagree with my Christian friends about the source of that divine nature. Even if you're not a fan of Christmas, Christmas music, or operatic voices, I suggest that you give this one a boy scout try. Merry Christmas to all my blog friends!

P.S. The last time that I posted a Jussi Bjorling song, I didn't blog again for a month. This time, however, I plan to return to the blogosphere in a few days!

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Tis the Season

As promised, here are some pictures of our Christmas decorations.

(Almost the whole tree)

(The whole tree)

(Crystal star)

(Another crystal star)

(Three favorites)

(An ornament from my grandmother)

(Yet another crystal star and a blue glass ornament from LR)

(A Purple Heart, of a different sort)

(A blurry view from across the street)

(A clear view from across the street - check
out Jacob's glowing eyeballs in the upper left)

(A very blurry view from across the street -
artistic, don't you think?)

(Lincoln the cat, who needed to take a nap after "reading"
Black's Law Dictionary)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roof Update

After finishing my last post, I called three roofers and left messages. P, who owns a small roofing company in my neighborhood, called me back within half an hour, was at my house about 10 minutes after we spoke, and had the leaky spot (as well as a couple other spots that looked sketchy) patched up about 15 minutes after that. Today it rained, and the patch seems to be holding.

One interesting thing that P said was that the leaky spot looked like a recent and deliberately made hole. I say that this is interesting because a kind of bizarre handyman who's doing work for some of my neighbors offered to clean my gutters the week before the leak made itself known. He seemed a little off to me, but he was working for two of my neighbors and his fee seemed pretty cheap, so I told him to go ahead with the gutters and also asked him to assess the overall condition of the roof while he was up there. He said that I needed $7,000 worth of roof work, which he said that he would be happy to do for $3500. He said that I needed the work to be done immediately or "water was gonna come bustin' through." He tried to pressure me into hiring him on the spot by lowering his price to $2500 and repeating his dire prediction, but I said no, that I needed to get some other opinions and estimates before I shelled out that kind of dough. He said that roofers were not trustworthy and did not know what they were doing and then lowered his price to $2000. Needless to say, my initial instinct about this guy kept getting stronger, and I was beginning to regret even the gutter transaction.

Well, the next time it rained, the water indeed came "bustin' through" what P said was a small hole that appeared to be deliberately made with something about the size of the blunt end of a nail. Hmmmm. J and I, who both are conspiracy theorists at heart, had been wondering to ourselves, as we rigged our bucket solution, if the bizarre gutter cleaner perhaps had taken steps to ensure that water did in fact bust through. P's statement makes us think that maybe our conspiracy theory was not so far off base after all. One day, maybe, I will learn to trust my gut and not hire people who seem shady, even if they do offer to clean the gutters for cheap.

P did agree with the shady guy that I need quite a bit of routine maintenance on my old flat tin roof (scraping and painting, plus one gutter needs to be either repaired or replaced), but I will have to wait for a 2- or 3-day stretch of weather that is both dry and above 40 degrees F for that. That probably won't be until spring, which is fine because it gives me some time to get a couple more estimates (although I really liked the guy who came out last week). P guarantees his patches in the mean time. I should mention that P's estimate for the maintenance work just arrived, and it is less than the shady guy's lowest bid.

OK, enough talk about leaking roofs and conspiracy theories. Next up: pictures of the house, which we finally decorated for Christmas this weekend.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Listening to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain. . .in a Whole New Way!

I love rain. I especially love sitting in my upstairs den and listening to the rain hit the skylight and echo in the chimney as I sit by a nice warm fire, ideally with J and the dogs nearby. That is exactly what I was doing last night when, from my perch on the couch with Amos the dog, I started to hear yet another rhythmic sound. It didn't take long for the origin of this new sound to occur to me.

"Uh oh," I said to J, who was finally getting around to writing a new post for his blog.

"What do you mean, 'uh oh?,'" J replied.

"I mean this," said I, as I pointed to the ceiling, which looked like this. . .

. . . except that last night there was water dripping through the seam that had just opened up (toward the bottom of the photograph, between the water stain and the attic hatch). The water hitting the marble-top table just underneath that seam was the new rhythm of the falling rain that I had just discerned, much to my disappointment.

J and I, both being resourceful individuals, quickly located and brought upstairs a ladder and a bucket, and J was able to place the bucket under the leak, which luckily was reachable through our small attic space. Our solution looked like this:

Eventually the drip through the den ceiling subsided, as J and I enjoyed the rest of our evening by the fire secure in the knowledge that we had done everything within our power at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday to contain the leak. Eventually we went to bed, listening to the non-stop pouring rain and hoping that our little blue bucket would be large enough to contain the overnight leakage.

Seeing my attic for the first time in many years inspired quite an exciting dream last night. I dreamt that, unbeknownst to me, I had a whole top story consisting of two bedrooms, a bathroom, and small kitchenette area. To top that all off, there was a door at the back of the third story that opened outdoors onto a staircase leading to a grassy backyard, complete with a garage! The newly found elements of my property were in pretty rough shape, and there was a squatter living in the attic who I had to toss, gently but firmly. (And to think -- all this time I thought that all that bustling I continually hear overhead was just squirrels!) Just as I was contemplating big plans for my newly-discovered third story (can you say mega master suite?) and reveling in the fact that I had a decent-sized yard with off-street parking (in real life, of course, I have neither), I awoke to the sound of Lincoln the cat throwing up on the bedroom floor.

After we (in this case really meaning J) had dealt with the cat mess, J and I were thrilled to discover that the bucket indeed had provided sufficient damage control overnight. However, I must confess that I was crestfallen to find that the attic still looked like this. . .

. . . instead of the spacious fixer-upper of my dreams. I pretty much figured it would still just be the same old meager attic that I had seen the night before, but you can't blame a girl for checking to make sure, can you?

Now I'm off to call an assortment of Capitol Hill roofers. Wish me luck, and sunny skies, until some roofer can find time to show up and hopefully provide a better fix than the blue bucket.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thank you and Farewell to the Sock Puppet Woman

Today I said thank you and farewell to the Sock Puppet Woman.

A convergence of several events and revelations over the last two days got me worked up into an incredible snit on this topic, which in turn brought me back what I believe to be some universal truths, which in turn brought me to a place of peace. The whole story is a long one, even by my standards, and a couple parts of it would risk revealing the SPW's true identity. I therefore cannot in good faith tell all (it is at moments like these that I wish I had chosen to blog anonymously -- sigh, sigh), but I will tell some.

The part of this story that allowed all the other important pieces (including all the insights contained in the comments on my initial SPW post) to click together and present a solution was my walk around the cemetery this morning with one of my favorite dog-walking Bodhisattvas. She reminded me of some things that I have believed for a while now, namely that all human beings are connected to one another (whether or not we like or recognize it, we are all one), and the peskiest bugaboos that we have with one another present us with the most powerful opportunities to learn and heal. "When you think of this person, hold her dearly in your heart, knowing that you are essentially the same, and say 'thank you, Precious Teacher,'" said the wise and wonderful Xine. That, combined with my long-standing suspicion that a large part of why I have trouble with the SPW is because she reminds me a great deal of myself in certain respects, somehow allowed all that venom that had been gnawing away my solar plexus to drift away. I felt incredibly light and at peace as feelings of compassion for a fellow human being who is worthy of happiness and respect filled the space that the venom had just left.

When I got home from the dog-walking cemetery, I reached out to this particular Precious Teacher as a person instead of a sock puppet. It is possible that this action may pave the way for a new and genuine friendship -- wouldn't *that* be something -- depending on if and how she responds. I think it is entirely possible that I could learn as much from this person, as a person, as I learned from her in her guise as the SPW, and I also think that perhaps she could learn a thing or two from me. Regardless of the response I get (or lack thereof), just knowing that I am able now to reach out to this person with a kind and open heart makes me feel a whole lot better.

So, thank you and farewell Sock Puppet Woman; hello Precious Teacher and, I hope, Friend. Although I don't know what on earth I'm going to do with all the time and energy that this recent development frees up! Maybe I'll finally get back to work on that novel. . . . (: )

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rest in Peace

(Congressional Cemetery at Dawn -- 12/07/08)

I went back to the Mexican/Salvadoran restaurant last night, and the waiters told me that the man who collapsed on Saturday night had died. The cops stopped by the restaurant later Saturday night to inform the wait staff of this outcome and interview them for details. Apparently no one knows who the guy is yet. Whoever he is, or was, may he rest in peace -- it sounds as if his life was a hard one, and his exit certainly wasn't pretty.

When I was in the restaurant last night, I reflected back on the experience of Saturday night and some interesting things came to mind. The first has to do with the book I am currently reading, Many Lives, Many Masters, by Brian Weiss. One friend loaned me this book a while ago after a discussion we had at the dog-walking graveyard about reincarnation, and another friend's theory that the Sock Puppet Woman situation has to do with past-life karma inspired me to read it. The book is about an Ivy League psychiatrist (he makes a point of flaunting his "certified smart" credentials to deflect those would tend to dismiss his story as completely crazy) who decided as a last-ditch attempt to hypnotize a patient who had not improved despite 18 months of traditional therapy -- he hoped that during the hypnosis he could regress her back to her childhood and uncover some traumatic event(s) that would shed light on her current problems. Over time, Weiss concluded that when his patient was hypnotized she not only remembered her childhood in this life but also remembered past lives. At first he was very skeptical about the past-life thing (he is a serious Ivy League doctor and scientist, remember!), but after several regressions in which the woman produced very intricate details concerning times and places about which she consciously knew nothing, Dr. Weiss started to give some credence to the past-life idea. Anyway, just before the man collapsed on Saturday night, I was reading the part of Weiss's book in which he described how his patient's hypnotic memories of "passing over" into the spiritual state between her human lifetimes were virtually identical to the typical description of a near-death experience -- floating above the dying body, ceasing to feel the physical pain of death, and approaching a white light, e.g. I thought it was interesting, maybe even a little spooky, that I was reading about that topic literally minutes before seeing someone closely approach his death.

Another thing that I thought was interesting (this will be shorter than the last point, I promise) was that almost immediately after the paramedics carried the man out to the ambulance and the wait staff cleared away all the mess associated with the man's collapse and the efforts to resuscitate him, other customers started to stream steadily through the door, just like any other Saturday night. This I found interesting on two fronts: (1) it was such a clear example of how life, as they say, indeed does go on when souls leave its plane, and (2) it made me think that I was the only non-wait staff (or family-member-of-wait staff) customer during the traumatic episode for a reason, because by the time I left the place was pretty busy.

In conclusion, I would like to say a big "thank you" to all of you who have commented on the last two posts, both of which deal with uncomfortable situations -- your insights and support have been very helpful -- and I also would like to clarify how I feel about the relationship between the Sock Puppet Woman and watching the man die. A couple of you yesterday opined that the tenuousness of life was precisely why the SPW should be viewed as important for all the lessons and insights that she offers, rather than "silly," which was the word that I used when contrasting the two situations. I actually agree with that point and think that "silly" was an unfortunate choice of adjective on my part. What I meant to convey was the sense that the SPW, although of deep importance to me here in this life for the reasons the two commenters identified, is, like everything else in this life, an impermanent phenomenon. Even if reincarnation really is how it works and my situation with Ellie indeed is a karmic thing, that karma either will be resolved in this life or get carried over in some form to the next. But this iteration of it that resides within my current being is just as ephemeral as everything else. So, it would have been more accurate for me to have said yesterday that watching a guy die brought home to me that the SPW situation is, like life itself, not solid. Or something like that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Life and Death

(Sunrise over Congressional Cemetery -- 12/07/08)

Last night I had an early dinner at one of my favorite Capitol Hill restaurants. Just as I was finishing my food, another diner starting spitting up and struggling for breath. Shortly thereafter, he was unconscious. The wait staff thought that he was choking, so they simultaneously called 911 and began the Heimlich maneuver. I put one comforting hand on the man's back and another on the shoulder of E, the restaurant owner -- I've known E for years and could tell that he was trying hard not to panic.

The Heimlich attempts were to no avail, but the DC Fire Department paramedics arrived within about 2 minutes of the 911 call. They hooked the guy up to a heart monitor and began to go to work on him right away. He had a faint pulse and his breaths were coming very few and far between. The paramedics first checked his throat for blockages, and apparently he wasn't choking after all. The wait staff and some of their family members, who were dining at the restaurant and who had been keeping the man company, said that the man pointed to his head and was trying to say something but couldn't before he became unconscious. They said that he had arrived at the restaurant drunk and ordered a rum and coke (the wait staff provided coke with no rum) and steak. Apparently the man once frequented all the Mexican/Salvadoran restaurants on the Hill and always arrived alone and already intoxicated and had a history of not paying -- all the other restaurants now refused to serve him. Despite his familiarity to the wait staff, no one knew his name, and he didn't have any formal ID -- just a collection of business cards and handwritten notes.

The man's story was pieced together by the waiters and their family members while the paramedics were cutting the guy's clothes off, hooking him up to the monitor, and performing CPR on him. I have to say, I was impressed by the paramedics -- I had never seen them in action before, and it was something. The whole time I kept trying to send positive energy and calming thoughts to the man, and E and I stood together with our arms around each other's shoulders for emotional support. I was the only non-family member dining at the restaurant at that point, although I've been going there so long that I think they all kind of think of me as family by now -- everyone was holding onto someone else with one arm and clutching his or her own chest with the other. It was really difficult to stand there and watch someone who was going to die without some serious medical intervention.

The paramedics were keeping the man alive, but he was not getting any better, and his heart rate became scarily low whenever they weren't pounding on his chest. After what seemed like forever but was probably only about 4 minutes, the paramedics put the man on a stretcher and took him to an area hospital. E said that he would check on the man today and give me a call, but so far I have heard nothing. I will post again once I get word.

I think that I always appreciate how tenuous our human lives are -- they are impermanent, very brief in the grand scheme of time, and can be whisked away in a moment, sometimes with no warning whatsoever -- but events like last night (which is the first time I've been present for an emergency medical call) put that into an even starker perspective. Last night also has made me think about how silly my obsession with the Sock Puppet Woman is by contrast.

(Amos & Jacob among the tombstones at dawn -- 12/07/08)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Sock Puppet Woman . . . or not?

This is one of those posts in which I am going to show one of my less noble (OK, totally ignoble) sides and in the process may well ruin anything in the way of a good opinion that any of you out there might have of me. I'm going ahead and publishing on this topic anyway, though, in the hopes that some of you who don't lose all respect for me by the end of the post might be able to shed some light on this situation.

Did you ever really hate someone's guts? I mean really, viscerally, on a cellular level just flat-out despise them? I feel that way about one person, and the feeling has been eating at me. I've talked to two friends about this state of affairs recently, and both of them wound up laughing hysterically as I described my feelings. Apparently the thought of me harboring this kind of animosity toward another human being is very funny. Or maybe it was the repeated claw-bearing gestures and meowing and hissing sounds that accompanied my description. But I digress. . . .

Funny or not, it is highly unusual for me to feel such deep dislike for another person. Normally I genuinely like people. There are a few folks whom I find mildly annoying at first blush, but I'm almost always able to find redeeming qualities in them and focus on those instead. After a while, I come to really like these people and can't remember why they ever annoyed me in the first place. Then there are a few people whom I kinda sorta don't like, but I figure they must have redeeming qualities, too, even if I can't see them, so I let the dislike go and if I must deal with these folks I am able to do so kindly. But there's this one person who I continue to despise with an intensity that is almost scary, especially in light of the fact that this person has done absolutely nothing to harm me and at this point I don't even have occasion to see her any more.

For a long while now I have been trying to uncover what is at the root of this venom, with the hope that understanding the reason for this unprecedented negativity will allow me to find some peaceful resolution, which I genuinely, almost desperately, desire to do. I know that this hatred lurking within myself harms me a lot, I don't want to hate this person (or any other person, for that matter), and intellectually I can come up with all kinds of techniques that should allow me to change my emotional response. Yet despite all this rational knowledge, I cannot, or more accurately as yet have not, let this animosity go.

This person, I'll call her Ellie for convenience, is someone whom I knew from a previous job. I didn't really know her that well, but our paths crossed from time to time. My first memory of her is of observing her getting coffee with her supervisor in the cafeteria on a fairly regular basis. The first time I saw her, before I even heard her speak or had any inkling of her personality, I had a very strong "I don't like her" reaction. Then I heard her sucking up to her boss, which deeply reinforced this initial reaction. Brown-nosing is one of the traits that I like least in humankind, so this first set of cafeteria observations did not leave me favorably disposed. Later, after being in several meetings with Ellie and interacting with her socially on a couple of occasions, I concluded that her success at her job was due largely to her brown-nosing efforts (along with what I will concede are a good memory, excellent organizational skills, and a professed "passion" for her subject matter), because whatever intellect inhabits her skull is a not a very sophisticated one. Sucking up occasionally is bad enough, but relying on that tactic to climb the corporate ladder, and succeeding, is one of those things that drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when, as in Ellie's case, I have genuine affection and respect for the person who is chiefly responsible for the promoting -- that part of the whole dynamic tends to make the rub here even stronger.

As offensive as sucking up is, I don't think that's at the root of my intense dislike, for several reason. First of all, the initial pang of dislike preceded the observation that Ellie is a suck-up. In addition, I know many other people who suck up to the management, but I am nonetheless able to be quite fond of almost all of them despite that; if I'm totally honest with myself, I know that I have had moments of sucking up, too (not proud to admit that, but as long as I'm baring my soul here I figured why hold back?). Last but not least, I understand that people get promoted and/or get high performance ratings all the time based in whole or in part on sucking up instead of true merit -- people who are undeserving according to my standards rise to the top with alarming frequency (look at George W. Bush, for crying out loud!), and although I admittedly don't like that fact, I also don't let that particular form of injustice eat me up inside or otherwise keep me awake at night.

So, if it's not the fact that Ellie has her lips all over the asses of those higher than her in the food chain at work that disposes me to dislike her, what on earth is it? She is cute, but so am I, so I don't think it's that. Her boss clearly has a good opinion of her, but her boss also has an equally high opinion of me, so I don't think it's that. I think that Ellie might have outperformed me at a meeting once (although others have disagreed with me on that point), but that kind of thing happens to the best of us, especially those of us who hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, so I don't think it's that. She is successful at her job, but according to most ways in which people measure success where she works I was even more successful, so I don't think it's that.

I saw a totally wonderful pastoral counselor for around a year, during which the Ellie situation eventually presented itself as one of my more difficult issues. "This woman," my counselor said, "is a sock puppet." Meaning that for some reason I need to have a nemesis character in my life and, probably for all her brown-nosing combined with all the reasons discussed in the previous paragraph, Ellie makes a really convenient choice. However, this past year for me has been about giving up struggle as a way of life, and I can tell you that at this point I don't want a nemesis. Honestly, I don't. I'd pay good money to get rid of this one and never have another.

I am ashamed of myself for still having these feelings toward Ellie, and I would like to get through them so that I could at a minimum feel neutral toward her, and maybe even in time come to genuinely like her. Toward that end, I have tried to work through, one by one, all the more deeply-seated psychological reasons that Ellie might be a sock puppet so that I could burn the sock, so speak -- maybe she and I have similar emotional wounds and I use her as an alter-ego to beat up so that I don't ostensibly flog myself; maybe she reminds me of things I see in myself but don't like; maybe she perpetuates the (wrong-headed) notion, which I learned in childhood and believed for a long time, that I need a competitor in every aspect of my life; etc., etc., etc. Although I have successfully used this kind of rational enquiry to get to the root of other issues that troubled me, it has been to no avail with Ellie, the Sock Puppet Woman. Which has got me to thinking that maybe she's not a sock puppet after all -- maybe there actually is a reasonable basis for my negative feelings, even if I haven't identified it yet.

When she finally stopped laughing and crying at the same time, the friend to whom I relayed my situation yesterday said, "Wow, there's a lot of bad past-life karma at work there! A lot!" (For the record, I think that my friend's laughter was great, because it helped to defuse my highly-charged negativity and also because it somehow confirmed for me that this kind of behavior is indeed so out of character as to be laughable, i.e., I am not really a bad person at heart. Laughter really is the best medicine sometimes.) I tend to like this explanation a lot, because it does seem to provide an underlying reason for what seems like such a bizarre and irrational reaction.

My regular readers are a source of great wisdom and insight, and y'all have helped me a lot in the past (especially when I was having all those crazy dreams). If any of you managed to read all the way to the end of this post and are still speaking to me, I would love to hear your theories about why I feel this emotion and what I can do to reach a place of peace.

OK, enough. It's time to go have my Saturday margarita lunch.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


When I returned from the dog park this morning, I looked around the house and thought, "Man, I need to clean this place from top to bottom and do about five loads of laundry." Then I was hit by an even stronger compulsion to spend some time with Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours, his "love poems to God." I hadn't really been contemplating the devastating events in Mumbai until I got to this, which I offer today as food for thought --

Ich lese es hearus aus deinem Wort

I read it here in your very word,
in the story of the gestures
with which your hands cupped themselves
around our becoming -- limiting, warm.

You said live out loud, and die you said lightly,
and over and over again you said be.

But before the first death came murder.
A fracture broke across the rings you'd ripened.
A screaming shattered the voices

that had just come together to speak you,
to make of you a bridge
over the chasm of everything.

And what they have stammered ever since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

(From the Penguin 100th Anniversary Edition of Rilke's Book of Hours -- Love Poems to God, translated from the German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Beauty is Always Available

I had a rough weekend and am having a rough beginning of this week, emotionally speaking. Instead of going into the details of why that is the case, which I think would be a form of fruitless dwelling on my sorrows, I instead have decided to post this audio clip.

It is a recording of baritone Robert Merrill and tenor Jussi Bjorling singing a duet from Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers." The first time I heard this duet, I had no idea what these guys were singing about (still don't in fact, although I will be looking that up later today), but I nonetheless instantly got the chills and found myself quietly crying by the time the song ended. That's the power of opera at its greatest.

Pure beauty, this is. When I listen to these two men singing, I am reminded that one always can make a choice to focus on the beautiful instead of the ugly, the good instead of the bad, the calm instead of the inflamed. That is an important reminder for me personally as I work through some difficult issues. I think it also is an important reminder for all of my fellow Americans as we embark upon whichever new course we collectively choose for ourselves tomorrow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I've Been Tagged!

Barbara tagged me for the "Seven Random Facts" meme.

Here are the official rules:

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, here goes.

1. I am unusually good at remembering names. Whenever anyone at my dog park wants to know who anyone else is, they always ask me. I invariably know the first and last names of the object of enquiry, as well as their dog's name. I don't know if this is a natural skill or a product of training. Once, when I was at a leadership camp during high school, one of the stupid bonding games we played was gathering in a huge circle -- starting with our instructor, each person had to say his or her own name and go backwards around the circle and repeat the names of everyone who had gone before. I was almost at the end of a circle of about 50 people and I could not bear to make a mistake (not that I'm a perfectionist or anything), so I got all the other 45 names correct as I went back around to our leader. Everyone clapped for me when I finished. I don't know if that experience revealed a talent that already was there or was responsible for creating said talent. Either way, I now rarely forget a name.

2. I love to cook, and I believe that an important part of preparing food is being mindful during each step of the process. For example, I use different cutting boards for different types of foods, and I wash my knife and the cutting board in between cutting different types of food. I also think happy thoughts while I prepare ingredients and cook them, and I envision sending good energy into the dish. I'm convinced that all of this ritual makes the food taste better.

3. Even though my college days are long gone, I am still a total Cameron Crazy at heart. For all you non-hoops people out there, that means that I am a Duke basketball fan of the most avid variety. When I was at Duke, students got into games at Cameron Indoor Stadium on a first-come, first-served basis. This always involved a long line and frequently involved camping out in front of Cameron, sometimes for 2-3 weeks. My sophomore year, I was in charge of student crowd control in front of Cameron, which was no easy task, especially when I had to oversee the monitoring of "tent city" for weeks at a time in addition to the game-day line. In return for taking on this pain-in-ass task, I got to sit at mid-court about three rows back at all the home games. By the time all the kids who would fit finally were packed into the stadium, I would always think that I was too exhausted to stay for the game. But as soon as I entered the building the intense Cameron energy would revive me and I would stay and cheer with the best of them. It is a very special (and hot!) place.

4. I love old English cars. I inherited the old-English-car disease from my father, who taught me to drive a stick shift in his 1960-something TR 3 and gave me a 1974 MGB GT when I turned 16. I drove that car for 15 years before I finally broke down and got a "real car" (i.e., something with power steering, power windows, air conditioning, and windshield wipers that actually worked when it rained, and that could be started on cool and/or rainy days without resorting to a manual choke). I really think that if a person can drive an old English car, he or she can drive anything. If I ever strike it rich, I will buy two mint-condition Jaguar E-types (in my opinion, the most beautiful cars ever built) -- one for me; one for Daddy.

5. I have a deep appreciation for architecture, and the first thing I do when I visit a new place is simply wander around looking at all the buildings. My favorite building of all time is the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. It is simply gorgeous, inside and out, and all the beautiful decorations relate to areas of knowledge. I always go to the main reading room when I need inspiration, and it never fails to provide some. I also love Washington, D.C.'s Union Station (also within walking distance). Although it is an active train station and shopping mall (complete with movie theatre), it has an incredibly peaceful and tranquil energy about it. When I was in law school at Georgetown, I would always go to Union Station, which is just a few blocks from the law center, when I needed to calm down. Thank you Daniel Burnham for designing such a wonderful building, and thank you Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Elizabeth Dole for bringing it back to life (Congress nearly bulldozed it in 1981).

6. I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time earlier this year (my first trip to any part of the American southwest) and was stunned to find myself feeling more at home there than I do in my home state of North Carolina. That's really saying something, because I love North Carolina from the eastern-most shore of its Outer Banks all the way to the western-most point of its mountains (or "hills," as my grandfather used to call them). But there is something about the energy, light, and spaciousness of the Santa Fe area of NM that feels just perfectly, exquisitely right to me. I can hardly wait to go back.

7. Thus far in life, I have had only two speeds -- "total workaholic" and "off." This past year has been my first real experiment with being in the off-mode for an extended period of time. Although it has been wonderful to have an opportunity to pause and reflect and take myself away from the pressures of the DC rat race, I think that, on balance, I do better when I have a job to keep me occupied. When I return to work, which I hope will be by the first of the year at the latest, I would like to try to find more of a middle ground, where I'm a workaholic at work but feel comfortable leaving my work in the workplace and coming home to relax. I know that this is possible because, like just about everything else in this life, it is a choice. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to put that choice into practice.

Well, that's it for my seven fun facts. More than you wanted to know, I'm sure. I think that most of my blog friends already have participated in this or a similar meme, so I can't come up with seven people to tag. I will, however, tag Jeff (who is always a good sport) and also my blog friends across the pond, Virtual Voyage and SJW. Play along only if you want.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Time of Strange Dreams

I have been having very long, vivid, and strange dreams lately. The one last night was a real doozy.

At the beginning, I was scaling a rock wall, without any kind of harness, with a couple of men -- one was a famous movie actor, the other was the owner of a small business in my neighborhood. At one point, I would have fallen to my death if it hadn't been for the two guys' help. We all made it down OK, and then I realized that I had left my keys in a restaurant located on the fourth floor of a nearby building. The guys sent me scaling up the wall of the building, this time with a harness, so that I could climb through the restaurant's window to retrieve my keys, which I did successfully.

Flash forward to being outdoors looking at two spider webs woven between blades of grass, one right next to the other. They had collected the morning dew and glistened beautifully as the sunlight hit them. (I saw tiny webs like this in the grass as I walked my dogs this past Sunday morning, but the ones in my dream were much bigger.)

Fast forward to another restaurant, this time located high upon a hilltop with an expansive outdoor seating area that could be accessed only by climbing an almost impossibly tall ladder. Someone, I think J, held the ladder for me, and once I reached the last rung I discovered there was a bar stool perched rather precariously on top and that the restaurant's deck was about 50 feet away. There were two other ladders next to mine, and the people on those ladders had climbed atop their respective crowning bar stools. They told me that the point was not to get to the restaurant but rather to stand on top of the stool; they also told me that getting on top of the stool was not as scary as it looked, and that I would not lose my balance. Now, I am not all that comfortable with heights in the first instance, so just making it up the ladder was difficult for me, and I was scared to death at the thought of standing atop that bar stool with nothing to hold onto. Yet somehow, with my neighbors' coaxing, I managed to climb atop that stool -- it felt great once I did it, and oh my, what an amazing view!

Flash forward to going back to look at the beautiful spider webs again.

Flash forward to showing a friend my new crystal pendant, which contained within it a tiny glowing spider web, complete with a tiny living spider at the center.

Here's my first cut at what all this means: Yesterday I had an interview for a legal job that will, if I take it, involve absolutely crazy hours and will leave me little if any time for puttering along on my slow-going novel. The novel is already pretty fully-formed in my head, and I actually would like to finish committing it to paper some day, so the thought of not having time to write pains me. This is a not a particularly rational reaction, because in theory I now could be working on my book all day while I'm unemployed; however, most days I choose to devote my time to other things instead. Even so, I equate a decision to take this new job with a decision to give up on the book. I think that all the spider stuff in the dream symbolizes writing (thank you Tam, for that insight), and that all the height-scaling has to do with obstacles to success and also with fear. The fear is not only the fear of failure, as symbolized by the rock climbing near-fall, but also the fear of success, as symbolized by being afraid to climb atop the stool that symbolized success once I reached it. Maybe the "key" I recovered in the dream is the thing that will unlock my ability to see my novel to a successful conclusion, regardless of whether I take this job or not; maybe that key is the belief that success with my writing is just as available as failure, if I am willing to put aside my fear and really believe in myself for a change - if I can maybe even believe that there really is nothing to fear - and if I am willing to accept the help of others along the way as I did in both the climbs in my dream.

I came up with this theory as soon as I awoke, and a quick consultation of the dream dictionary to which Willow pointed me last month (when I posted about my animal dreams) confirmed my initial instincts. If anyone else out there has thoughts or alternate theories, I would, as always, be pleased to hear them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Experimental Cooking - Dream Soup

One night last week, I had a dream that I was making a soup with carrots and cabbage. On the one hand, this was a pleasant dream because I absolutely adore cabbage; on the other hand, this was a vexing dream, because I started the soup with carrots, cabbage, and stock but for some reason could not decipher the rest of the recipe. Hmmph! Damned dream, teasing me like that!

I thought about this dream for a couple days and decided that I would make a cabbage soup concoction of some sort this weekend. Then yesterday I woke up with symptoms of a bladder infection (I've been steadily improving ever since), which caused me to consult various holistic healing sources about nutrients that might help ease those symptoms until the doctor's office opened on Monday. Some of the recommended foods were celery and winter squash. Could those be the magic missing ingredients I needed to complete my dream soup? I decided to experiment and find out.

Miraculously, my experimental concoction turned out so well that I thought I'd follow the lead of some of my fellow bloggers and post a photo and the recipe. I tend to cook by feel, especially when I'm making up something based on a dream, so what I'm posting below is more of a guideline than a strict recipe. If anyone out there is brave enough to try it, let me know how it turns out and if you like it.

Adrianne's Dream Soup

- 2-3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 small-to-medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into approx. 1-inch dice
- 1/3 of a large head of cabbage, roughly chopped
- 4 to 6 cups homemade vegetable stock or other homemade stock (if you cheat and use store-bought stock, please don't tell me!)
- ground turmeric, to taste (I added it a pinch at a time until I thought things looked and tasted right, so I'm not really sure how much I used in total -- my best guess is 1/4 to 1/2 tsp.)
- ground coriander, to taste (my best guess on this one is about 1 to 2 tsps.)
- ground allspice, to taste (I used enough to add interest and complexity to the overall dish without imparting an affirmative allspice flavor -- around 4 or 5 twists of the grinder)
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots and celery and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the diced squash and saute 2-3 minutes more. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and gently simmer, partially covered, until the squash is slightly tender but not yet cooked through, about 5-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and spices and bring back to a simmer. Continue simmering until both the squash and the cabbage reach the desired level of tenderness. As the soup simmers, adjust the amount of stock as needed to achieve desired consistency. When the soup is done, taste for spices and adjust them to your liking. Serve hot with warm, crusty bread.

P.S. This soup is even better the next day -- the spices mingled nicely overnight.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Now that things have finally cooled off here, 'tis the season to sit by the fire.

Our house is a little chilly during the day and really chilly at night, but we have not broken down and turned the heat on yet. Evening fires in the cozy den provide just the right amount of warmth after dinner. I always have good intentions to "read by the fire," but once I get the fire going all I can manage to do is sit and gaze at it.

I have been mesmerized by fire all my life, and my fascination seems only to grow over time. If it is true that we have past lives, I think that one of mine was during the period when fire was first discovered.

I do so love a fire.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I fell off the blogdar for the past week for a variety of reasons, mostly because I was wiped out by weed and mold allergies. My fellow allergy sufferers and I agree that the fall allergens have been particularly ferocious here in DC lately.

Although I've had fall allergies for as long as I can remember, usually they have been quite mild. Most years I'll sneeze a bit, but I won't feel bad enough to resort to antihistamines. Last week and weekend, by contrast, I was still experiencing a wide range of symptoms despite faithfully taking zyrtec each day. One day things got so bad that I took benadryl in between zyrtec doses. At that point, I decided that it was time to figure out where my epinephrine-pen was, just in case (epinephrine is used to treat cases of anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic reaction that potentially is fatal). Yikes!

My experience seems to be about on par with others who have weed and mold allergies. One of my dog park friends was having so many allergic symptoms that he lost his voice for three days late last week. Another friend was sneezing and coughing so badly that at first she thought she had a cold. Yet another friend is still suffering despite taking oral meds and shots. So, it's not just me -- I think that there is something different going on out there in the air this year. I sincerely hope that whatever made things so unbearable recently is not indicative of a new trend!

At this point, I am happy to report that I am feeling much better. The offending agent(s) seem(s) finally to have subsided. I'm breathing a lot easier and have returned to my usual energy level. Now that I'm feeling like me again, I hope to be posting more regularly. It was weird being away for a week.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Long Weekend Spent Appreciating Nature

After a weekend spent rescuing our front yard and our neighbor's tree box, what did J and I do yesterday? We went to the National Arboretum and wandered around marveling at nature and taking pictures for at least two hours. The fall colors are just now beginning to emerge in the DC area, but despite still being very green the arboretum was gorgeous, as always.

The arboretum was hosting its annual orchid show and as a consequence had tons of visitors, which rarely happens. The orchids, which were judged and awarded ribbons the previous day, were on display in an exhibit room. I wish that you all could have smelled, as well as seen, that room. The orchids were exquisite, like a kind of very fine living art work, and they had one of most intoxicating smells I've ever experienced. I could only stand being amid the orchids for about 5 minutes before the sights and especially the smells put me into sensory overload, but it was an amazing experience while it lasted.

In addition to the wonders of the plant world, the clouds yesterday were so spectacularly beautiful as to defy all description. It was as if all the known cloud types, plus a few new ones, were present all at once. Watching the clouds move yesterday convinced me that the angels and the other spirits are up to something. In contrast to all the mess that's going on here below, I sense that the goings one up above are all good. Maybe the spirits in the clouds will send much-needed rain to my blogging friends in Africa. I have included a couple of cloud photos in this post, but for even better examples of what the DC sky had to offer yesterday, check out J's blog and also a friend's blog.

(Clouds of all kinds)

(Clouds billowing like smoke and flames)

(Clouds flowing like a river)

(Angels in the air)

(Tree or wishbone - you decide)

(Busy bee)

(Mossy fallen tree trunk, side view)

(Mossy fallen tree trunk, top view)

(Delicate web)

(Sea of green)

(Fallen leaves on fallen tree)


(First fall color)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gardening Pics

Here's some pictorial evidence that J and I really did spend most of the weekend gardening. I meant to post these yesterday but was having some technical difficulty adding and moving pictures. Better late than never, I suppose!

("Velvet faces")

(Decorative cabbage, which the guy at the nursery had to
coax me to buy, but which I now actually kinda like)

(Green moss, chosen and planted by J earlier this year)

(Goldilocks, which we're hoping will take over a portion
of our front bed)

(Blooming gerbera daisy, which was a gift from a friend,
with hosta bloom in foreground)

(Very leggy, and thus far underutilized, herbs - tending them
yesterday has renewed my commitment to use them so they
don't get so out of control)

(The tree box's new look -- I wish we'd taken "before" pics,
because the change is really dramatic (the liriope is planted
too close together, but we had lots to offload))

(Aerial view of front bed, with more divided liriope, again
planted too close together -- hey, if anyone in the DC area
needs some liriope, let me know!)

(Aerial view of hosta bed (they're also planted too close
together, for the same reason as the liriope))

(Close-up view of front bed -- goldilocks and pansies)

(The bed nearest the house, with new snapdragons and
pansies for color, and new phlox that we hope will spread
all the way across the front edge and spill over the brick border)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Feel the Earth

(Favorite gardening clogs)

My house came with a very small, and initially very blank, front garden. For the last eight years, the task of planting things in my small garden space and watching them grow has given me a great amount of pleasure. A couple months after I moved into my house, my parents brought me hostas and liriope from their garden in NC. At first I thought that the plants looked puny and were planted way too far apart, but in eight years they have spread and filled in so much that this fall they desperately needed to be divided. Gardening is a great teacher of patience that way.

Normally I plant twice a year -- once in the spring and once in the fall -- and make a reasonable effort to tend to things as they grow throughout the year, but this year my fiance took over the spring planting and the summer tending. As a consequence, when I took to the garden with trowel in hand yesterday morning, it had been almost a year since I had probed the earth. Yesterday we divided some huge clumps of my parents' liriope and transplanted them into a tree box in front of my neighbor's house. That was our good deed for the gardening season, because the tree box was completely infested with four-foot tall weeds before we tackled it. Today, we moved some existing plants around our own yard and planted some new perennials -- coral bells, creeping phlox, and goldilocks -- and some annual color -- pansies and snapdragons. Now we get to sit our aching bones down and admire our handiwork.

I didn't realize it until I got to digging yesterday, but I think that I had been in serious gardening withdrawal. I must be one of those people who needs to dig in the earth and tend to plants in order to feel good. Once, when I was talking on the phone with my mother a few years ago right after one of my planting sprees, she spontaneously asked me if I had been gardening. "How could you possibly have known that?," I asked her in amazement. "I could tell by the lilt in your voice," she replied. I think that right now I probably have that lilt back.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This fall has been a remarkable time of connection for me. I am not sure if it is a product of the season (i.e., if fall is a time of connection and I simply have never noticed that before), or if it is a product of my time of life (i.e., if I've lived a sufficient number of years that I've had time to develop, and sever, some deep connections that I've now had long enough to miss and am seeking to renew ), or if it is simply a coincidence.

Whatever the cause, I feel that "connection" is the word of the day for me.

There are two people whom I've known for much of my life but with whom I have not routinely associated in a long while, and we are now in the process of establishing a new kind of connection that builds upon our history without attempting to relive the past (as if that were possible) or lay blame for the previous loss of connection.

There's also a sense of deepening connection with several people who have been squarely present recently but who are opening up to me, and I to them, in a qualitatively different way.

Then there are all my new blogging friends whom I've "met," so to speak, over the last three months. There are several of you whom I feel I have known for a long, long time, maybe even over many lifetimes, and I think it's such a blessing that we have found each other through this wonderful blogging process (special note to MWS - I'm guessing that you don't believe in past lives, but no matter - I nonetheless am so grateful to have met you in the blogosphere here in the year 2008 and feel a special kinship with you. I luv you, man!).

Then there's the connection that's inherent in commenting on others' blogs and receiving comments on my blog. The blogosphere has been a fascinating place lately, as people raise and discuss "big topics" (God, self, human nature, philosophy, art) and relish the conversation, even if that means agreeing to disagree about aspects of those topics in a civilized way.

These all are different forms of connecting, which is something I think we humans have a propensity to want to do. Wonderful alliances are being made these day, my blogging kin. Enjoy them. Enjoy them to the fullest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Is There Any Such Thing As an Inappropriate Prayer?

As I discussed at some length in a previous post, I see God not as a separate entity that created us and decides which of us go to heaven and hell, but rather as an eternal consciousness that permeates all things. The thing I have been wondering about for the last few days is whether or not it is OK to ask God for help in a formal, prayerful kind of way.

Last week I was telling a friend about how there are a couple areas in my life right now on which I could really use some guiding wisdom. "Why don't you pray about it?," she quickly responded. My first reaction to this idea was, "Ask God for something? For myself? Eeeeeekkkk! That's just not appropriate. That might even be downright irreverent. God is not a slot machine that exists to entertain and fulfill all my wishes!" I frequently thank God for the world around me and the people in it, both friend and foe, and I also wish that God will do nice those for all those folks, but asking God to do something for me somehow seemed selfish and therefore off limits.

My friend and I had a spirited talk about whether or not there were inappropriate topics for prayer. Her view, in a nutshell, is that it is OK to say anything to or ask anything from God, as long as one is sincere in what one says. I continued to bristle at that notion, but my reaction really got me to thinking about why that was the case, and about whether I might (gasp!) be misguided in my view.

I concluded that my qualms about what is or is not an appropriate topic for prayer had to do with two things --(1) the Judeo-Christian view of God with which I was raised but in which I no longer believe and (2) my view of myself.

On the first issue - the kind of divinity that I now envision is not the kind of presence that might judge me harshly or punish me for anything that I might think or say. However, the God that's described in the Bible might, in one of his wrathful moments, give me some demerits if my request rubbed him the wrong way. He might even send me to hell. This thought raised the following questions - If my view of God has evolved from the Biblical version of God and into something that is more like an all-loving, all-knowing, non-judgmental force, then why would I still envision the Biblical God as the receiver of my request? And why would I leap to the conclusion that asking such a God for help would be grounds for a harsh judgment in the first place?

The answer to these questions ties into the second issue - which is that, man, I must be feeling pretty insecure and unworthy these days if I'm afraid to level with God about where I am and what I need. Like I could hide that from an omniscient presence anyway. When cast in that light, I view my reticence to ask God for help, especially when I believe that I really need said help, as evidence that there's still part of me that is afraid to just be who I am in the world and that instead seeks to censor myself to say only "correct" and "pleasing" things so that I will receive approval rather than rejection.

Since thinking all the above thoughts, I've been doing two things. I've been repeating to myself that it is OK to be who I am in this moment and to express openly and honestly what I think and feel. It is. Really, it is! God, along with many mortals, sees me for who I really am anyway, no matter how much I try to finesse my words and actions in order to increase the likelihood of acceptance in the face of potential rejection. I've also been repeating to myself that the divine thankfully doesn't abide by my self-imposed rules about right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, worthy and unworthy. Regardless of what comes out of my mouth in the form of a prayerful request, God will carry on just fine, and so will I.

Today, with an open and honest heart, I am going to send up a request for the guidance that I feel I need, and I will do so without any reservations. While I'm at it, I'm going to say a special thank you for the friend who prompted me to think about this issue and see things differently.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Squirrel Season

(Jacob Threatt, Squirrel Hunter - it's hard to believe that
such an innocent-looking shepherd has such a vicious side)

Hunters have deer season and turkey season. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck have duck season and wabbit season. Here in Washington, D.C., we have squirrel season. There is a very interesting article in today's Washington Post about how squirrels were once nonexistent in our nation's capital, but the inhabitants of the city missed the little critters and actually went out of their way to import some. For reasons that soon will become clear, I think that my dog Jacob may have been one of these squirrel importers in a previous life.

The squirrels here are exceptionally active in September and October as they bustle about collecting their winter stashes. During this time, when my dogs are off leash at Congressional Cemetery, I can count on them to chase squirrels for an entire hour without stopping. I walk about 2 to 3 miles, and they probably run at least 10 in their constant pursuit of the eastern grey. This phenomenon has prompted me to compose a goofy dog song about the squirrel hunting antics of my dog Jacob. It's set to the tune of Danny Boy and goes something like this-

Oh, Jakie Boy, the squirrels the squirrels are calling
From tree to tree, all through the cem-uh-ter-y
The summer's gone, and all the acorns fallen
'Tis you, 'tis you, must chase and they must flee
Oh run ye fast, my golden squirrel crusader
Capturing squirrels upon the ground before they know
That they're about to go and meet their maker
Oh Jakie Boy, my Jakie Boy, oh what a show

The cemetery squirrels are never safe while my Jakie Boy is around, and today he captured and killed his first squirrel of the season. I didn't witness the moment of capture because I was gabbing with my friends K and S. It wasn't until I heard another dog owner screaming in horror as her dog and Jacob took turns parading around with the dead squirrel that I took note. Many thanks to S for slyly tricking Jacob into dropping his felled prey - without S's assistance I would probably still be in the graveyard politely asking Jacob to "drop it." As for the poor squirrel - sorry that you had such a tough exit, buddy, and hope that you will have a better go of it your next time around. In the meantime may you rest in peace.

P.S. This likely will be my last pet post for a while. I've been doing a lot of thinking this weekend and plan to return to more philosophical topics for a while.