Thursday, December 31, 2015

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

You can't stop time, but there are days I'd like to shut the expectations of the calendar off.

I do not want to sum up my past year in my nine best photos from Facebook. I do not want to come up with a word that perfectly encapsulates where I'm headed in 2016. Vision boards are just a reflection of the zoo of magazines you have in your bathroom. I am not in the mood to write 25 words that  spotlight my year, either, although it's a writing exercise that my sister does yearly and it's a fascinating challenge.

Network television and the internet today will be a firework of expectations and intentions. Helpful memes, handy lists, cute ideas like leaving notes for yourself in your sock drawer so you don't feel sad on Mondays. Fresh starts! Woo! Who doesn't love them? 

Everything in me says no to this right now, and my favorite word is an all capitals YES.

So, today I say YES to just being. It's ok for me to watch the squirrels peel bark off the tree in front of my window and wonder why they do it, to binge watch TED talks, and to eat the last three Welsh cookies without guilt or shame. It's ok for me to not participate in the forced march of bright displays of storage bins, or list making, or pork and sauerkraut wishes. It's ok to just be, to let the new year start quietly, maybe even sleep through it, because where I live now, they celebrate the last few minutes of the year by dropping a very large shoe.

A shoe. "Waiting for the other shoe to drop," is an idiom that came from tenement living in New York City. As one shoe makes a sound hitting the floor, the expectation for the other shoe to make a similar sound is created.

So we can assume that somewhere around here, there is another giant shoe, waiting to drop. We can spend the whole year waiting to hear that familiar sound, or we can spend it imagining that our upstairs neighbor is Lowly Worm.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Welsh Cookies

Stacked up, they are impressive!

First, get yourself out of the mindset that your Welsh Cookies will look anything like the ones you buy in the grocery stores or at church functions: those perfectly tanned, all uniform in size treats. You will have some burnt soldiers, some crumbly ones. This is what makes the world an interesting place. Broken cookies. Remind yourself of that as you eat them to hide the evidence that you can't keep your stovetop an even temperature.

Yield: About 2.5 to 3 dozen cookies. You will burn some. You will eat some. You will wonder why you doubled the recipe (original recipe is half of the ingredients below and says it yields same amount). Making them is a marathon of dialing back temp, timing, and wondering why you didn't thank every single grandma who made these back in NEPA. A friend tells me that an electric griddle works wonders if you have one. I don't.

Total Time: Carve out an afternoon, friends. The batter takes about 10 minutes to make. Refrigeration an hour (go do a couple of yoga sessions to pass the time, you'll need the peace),  and cooking time is the better part of your afternoon. At least another hour. Unless you're really efficient, in which case, I'm afraid we can't be friends.


4 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold and diced, plus more for cooking
1.5 cup currants (a box)
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
4 to 6 tablespoons milk
Melted butter, for cooking (about a stick, not kidding)


Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, zest, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture looks sandy. This part is fun, fun, fun! Messy. I like to think of all the people who say "Made with love!" when really they mean, "My hands were all over this! I swear I washed them!" 
Stir in the currants. They look like beady little eyes. Beat the eggs and 4 tablespoons of the milk together. Stir into the dry ingredients to make a shaggy dough, add more milk if the dough is dry. Gather dough into a lump, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Go do your yoga. Breathe.

Roll the dough on a floured workspace into a piece about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 2 to 3- inch rounds.

Heat a griddle (I tried our cast iron one and it got too  hot) or frying pan (non-stick worked best) over medium-low heat. Brush the pan surface with butter. Cook the cookies until slightly brown and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. They rise like little pancakes. Transfer to a rack, sprinkle with sugar and cool. Stack them up and take a photo for your Instagram followers. Store the cookies in a cookie tin.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

So Far Away, So Close

How a room transforms with the sound of a lone voice, reading aloud from a book written seventy years ago. What a respite from the constant intrusion of thoughts -- "we need a new coffeepot" -- "did I pack the wig?" -- "I wonder what  she meant by that comment?" Absolute relief is found in language that thrums with its ability to make you laugh one moment and cry the next.

Yesterday as I made a long drive, the grey road collecting underneath the wheels of the car, I asked myself to recall some happy Christmases. It was a hobbled attempt at cheering myself. There have been many happy Christmases in my lifetime, so I figured I'd find solace there, and I flipped through the mental files for some specificity, looking for the file folder marked, "Dancing to Rock Lobster in Front of the Tree," or "The Scent of Mushrooms and Onions." I found a parade of garlands, ornaments unpacked and squealed over (that green sequin bell my sister made with its little pearl ringer),  but I was unable to linger in any reverie for as long as I wished.

I passed a cellphone tower disguised as the world's tallest silo and swerved into thoughts about communication. Do I owe it to my "followers" my "audience" my "friends" (are they even friends, they just follow my posts, and even then I'm not sure if they do, they probably have unfollowed by now, disgusted by all my hoopla and poetry), to share my loss, disappointment, feelings of helplessness? No. I'll save that for the people I see on a regular basis, the ones who care. I should meet with them over coffee. I'll email them. Email? Call them? I don't want to talk about it at all right now.

At the end of my grey road thoughts was a performance with a variety show, the welcome transformation into another person for a couple of hours, the glee of engaging and interacting with an audience, and dinner with a friend, who I shared my sadness with over a plate heaped with spinach. Iron brings strength.

Then there was the road back home with the radio blaring, the wash off of makeup. Brewed tea, sagging eyelids, vapor of thought curling out.

I woke up this morning, and instead of my usual early writing ritual (I am so tired of my own clouds), I made myself some coffee, picked up a favorite book, and came back to bed to read. At first I read to myself, but the words were so musical I had to hear them, and I began reading out loud, to no one. The room shared the story with me. Somewhere in the middle of a sentence about a man who fears the titles of medical books, I started to cry.

All the folders of specificity were open now. Awake too early to go downstairs to the glitter under the tree, I'd climb into bed with my sister, and she'd read to me. The physical closeness, and the words of L. Frank Baum, or Lewis Carroll, or Laura Ingalls Wilder, the sound of the coffeepot being brought to life downstairs by our mother, were all served up from the filing cabinet in the part of my brain that was inaccessible to me just the day before. My own voice, which is my sister's voice. Christmas past, present, future. My sister, always so far away and so close.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Rubiayat of Memory

This is to say we remember,
not that it brings diamonds back. September
blew in and made a swirling exit,
leaves curled in the fire. You watched embers

float away, and let them. You hope your wits
won't do the same. Memory? Bullshit's
compass. There is a kind of beauty
without it, in forgetting, a benefit

in submerging your papers in a stream
to see the ink wash away. It seems
to me, well, what use are words anyway?
Mine thrum on repeat, a pattern, my bloodstream

of familiar family stories. So dear
one day I will mix and match, premiere
my latest work: a collage of December's
blankest pages, a trembling chandelier.

This is definitely not a true rubiayat. I followed the interlocking pattern, but discarded the pentameter (or tetrameter) rules of meter. Meter be damned -- at least in this poem.

We spent an evening with a friend from Iran recently, and he talked about the The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The Rubáiyát  is a translation of a selection of poems, originally written in Persian and numbering about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), a Persian poet, mathematician, and astronomer. A thousand poems!