Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pasta for Thanksgiving

I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving as a young child in Austria and didn't know exactly what the holiday meant until my family moved back to the U.S. when I was 9.

In those early years, Thanksgiving was an afterthought. As my mother dished out the whopping 3 pounds of pasta she cooked for her brood of six, she mentioned "Oh, today's Thanksgiving."

What's that? we asked with full mouths. 

"An American holiday."

And we dug again into the mountains of pasta blanketed with deep-red tomato sauce.

I ate helping after helping until the top button of my skirt needed to be undone. Until I had to take a nap before I could comfortably move again. This was also not unusual in a household that served one main meal each day, a light breakfast and dinner and hardly ever snacks.
I couldn't find us eating pasta,
but here's a holiday pic from that time.

Pasta was the food that fueled afternoon play. Pasta was what kept us waiting as lunchtime approached and belly's grumbled. 

"A watched pot never boils."

I knew that my mother was right. But not watching in wait while your stomach screams is an impossible ask. 

By the time the pasta reached al dente (and when I was the tester, I sometimes lied that it was there already) the mob of six circled the kitchen, sometimes fighting with each other. We couldn't help it.

When my mother placed the bowl on the table, there was no more will to wait. We held our forks upright ready to revolt. 

"Marisa, you say the prayer," my mother said to the oldest. Marisa was the one who organized our play. She took care of us. She sometimes ruled on who was right and wrong. We would give her one breath. One sentence.

"Thank you for our family, our food and our friends."

"Amen," we all said and then pillaged the pasta.

I am better acquainted with idea satisfaction than Thanksgiving. The gratitude comes afterward. I am satisfied; the meal was good. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Comfort food

I want comfort. I boil three potatoes in their skins, mash one with the back of a fork, drizzle it with good olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. I crawl back into bed.

I'm home sick for the second time in two weeks, and I'm homesick for a distant memory:

Nono (Italian for grandpa) feeds my Jack-o-lantern-mouthed brother from a steaming bowl.  He blows on each spoonful of potato before offering the bite. Anthony gums it down and opens for more. Sometimes Nono tests. Twice, after I beg, he feeds me too.

It's been eight years since Nono died and many more since he weaned Anthony. But the flakey potato tastes exactly like I remember. A lot has happened to to me in between those bites. There have been many times when I wanted comfort. Many times when I've retreated to bed with something that will fill me up or numb me out.

I've gone to bed with a glass of wine at the end of a long work day. Against the recommendation of most any dentist, I never bother to brush my teeth before falling asleep. I also hid a giant bar of cooking chocolate in my underwear drawer while I was studying in Spain. I would peel back the foil at night and gnaw on it. Once a wayward chip melted into my sheet. I tried cleaning it up with tissues and toothpaste, but my host had a keen eye. When I got home from school, the spotless sheet was drying on the line between apartment buildings.

It feels good to be cared for — to be spoon fed or have someone else do the laundry. Others have taught me the pleasure of clean sheets. But the lesson is now mine.

I go to the kitchen and mash another potato.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Out of my mind

There's a lot on my mind but not much I can shape into words. And even less I can say on the public platform of this blog. 

I've been wallowing in snot and self pity this weekend. The flu's onset happened swiftly on Friday afternoon. I went from scarfing down an entire box of sushi as a late lunch to sneezing and filling my trash can with Kleenex. I went home from work early and spent the next 36 hours in bed. 

Too much time in bed in my case is the fastest trigger of an emotional decline. I woke up this morning feeling sorry for myself. My head still felt like a watermelon, but the thought of another day in bed just about made me cry. And just like that, my friend Harum called. 

We talked about all the things that matter in the lives of single 20-somethings — the high- and lowlights of dates, the stresses of work, plans for future trips, riding bikes, being outside. And suddenly I was outside in the sunlight walking barefoot up and down the sidewalk in front of my house, still in my pajamas. The sun felt good. It felt good to laugh. 

I got off the phone and got in the shower. I dressed and went to the coffee shop around the corner to answer emails and write this blog. My head still feels heavy but my mind is a lot lighter. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Creative burst

I've got a head full of schemes and a blistered right hand — both the result of the weekend's tiny house building workshop.

In three days, I learned the basics of framing a tiny house from floor to roof.
The result of three days' work.
I got home late last night (from dinner with the people who hosted the workshop) totally inspired and also painfully aware of my lacking skill and the limitations of my strength. Hammering floor joists, wall studs and plywood was hard for me. It took me five swings of the hammer to everyone else's single swing.  But I stuck with it.

What I found inspiring was the process of turning drawings into an actual structure. I returned home each night of the workshop exhausted and still spent an hour looking at pictures and reading about what other people have done. The model that most appeals to me is that of Dee Williams (see video below).

I left the workshop with a half dozen phone numbers of people I could call to bounce ideas and perhaps to drive a few nails for me. 

Last week brought another creative highlight. I got to do some writing for the newspaper. Best of all, the topic was one I liked. I wrote about poet Galway Kinnell. For the reporting process, I attended a reading to celebrate Kinnell's contribution and life and spoke with his cohort of poet friends.
Galway Kinnell, 87, at the reading honoring his life work
at Vermont's Statehouse
The poetry and the conversations have stayed with me. They affirm that a life in pursuit of creativity is one well lived.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Living ‘The Little House’

Growing up, my mother read aloud to us every night. This continued well past the time that I could have easily read to myself. 

Mama warmed up with picture books chosen by the younger kids and then dove into the chapter books. The younger ones listened to those too. We covered considerable literary ground. We read “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Arabian Knights,” “Brother’s Grimm” and much more. We read “The Little House” series at least twice. 

Much of what I knew about the United States, as a child in Austria, was based on the lives of the Ingalls and Wilder families. My sisters and I were obsessed with hoop skirts and bonnets. We played at churning butter with buckets of mud in the backyard. 

Above all, the journey west in a covered wagon captured my imagination. We built covered wagons out of chairs and sheets and filled them with everything we could think of — a tea set, blankets, pillows, the chest of dress up clothes. My destination was always Montana, where my make-believe husband grew up. 

When we finally moved to the United States, I learned that no one actually lived and travelled in a covered wagon anymore. That life was limited to historical reenactment museums. But the idea of a small mobile dwelling has never left me. 

In my early 20s, I learned about eco-minded people living in tiny houses on wheels, and I have dreamed of building my own tiny house ever since. I like the idea of living in a home where each object is considered. A home that doesn’t tether me to a mortgage and promotes a lifestyle of limited environmental impact.

I feel ready to do more than just think about tiny houses. Next week, I’ll take my first concrete step. I’m registered for a tiny house building workshop. I hope to track my progress here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Picture stories

I'm enrolled in a five-week data-visualization class. The idea is to learn the mechanics of telling stories with numbers and pictures, which happens to be quite tricky.

I woke up in the middle of last night, restless and thinking about my latest assignment. I tinkered for hours with a map component. This evening, I finished. I'm damn proud of these visualizations that explore the top baby names in Vermont.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time to take flight

June and now half of July have rushed past. I’m afraid that summer will be a distant whistle before I get the chance to acknowledge her presence.

Still, I’ve enjoyed all the things that have kept me from those long, do-nothing summer days. The weekends have been packed with family, friends and weddings. The days filled with work, coffees, drinks, dinners and travel — all at a pace out of sync with the slowness of my writing. I need an expanse of time to form complete thoughts from words. For me it cannot be done during the 30-minute ferry ride across Lake Champlain or the 45 minutes between yoga class and my workday.

I’ve thought about slower and too-slow times in my life and wondered where the balance lies with my current constant state of motion.

I think of summers in Massena, N.Y., during my adolescence. The town had very little to offer me at 14. There were trips to the library and the beach on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. But I didn’t care much for reading then and the river was far too cold for more than a dip. In the evenings I crossed the road and the park to my grandparents’ house to watch “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” and on Saturday nights, “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

I remember being moderately depressed in the mornings by the expanse of time that lay before me. I tried to make the most of it. I read “Gone with the Wind” one of those summers and knit half an intricately patterned gray wool sweater. I also obsessed about irrational fears. After seeing “The Exorcist” at a friend’s house, I grew terrified of being possessed. And despite having a healthy dose of sex education, I worried that by pressing my bellybutton in just the right (or wrong) way I’d become miraculously pregnant. Without more engagement and structure, my mind roamed to dark places.

Bread Loaf blooms

It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I found the happy balance of purpose, structure and time. I started Vermont’s Bread Loaf School of English after a year of scattered work and unfocused writing. I got to the mountaintop campus in June as the fields bloomed with color. I took classes and worked as a server in the dining hall. The coursework nudged my mind away from obsession. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner separated my days into workable bocks of free time. My writing took flight in the sunny, Adirondack-chair hours between lunch and dinner service.

My writing has come to a standstill in the past months, but thanks to those Bread Loaf summers I understand what I’m missing. Although I don’t regret the activity, I need more Adirondack-chair hours. I need to remove some structures from my day. I need to clear a runway for takeoff.

Bread Loaf path

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dragon Mama

My mother nursed all six of her children. She spent twelve years breastfeeding, sometimes two babies at once. 

In my early memories, Mama always has one of my siblings latched on for “baa baa” (like the sound of a bleating sheep). This was a name my oldest sister came up with and it stuck.

Mama was efficient and managed many things simultaneously, which was necessary with so many children and no shortcuts. She homeschooled, baked bread, sewed clothes, entertained friends. There was baa baa and spelling lessons. Baa baa and bedtime stories. Baa baa and adult conversations while her friends griped about work trouble and took comfort in beer and cigerettes. Mama listened. She never smoked and hardly ever drank.

Mama’s friends regarded her as an incarnation of the Madonna. And she could certainly be painted as the Holy Mother in broad strokes. But having been her child, I know that depiction to be too simple. While it shows Mama’s nurturing, it disregards her wrath.

Her anger came on swiftly and was over as soon as she made her point. Mama nursed us all through our teething phases and beyond. Inevitably, each of us tried out our newly cut teeth by biting Mama. 

Her reaction was always the same. She pulled away and unleashed the roar of a waking dragon. I witness the startled expressions on my younger siblings faces that gave way to scared cries. In a matter of seconds the dragon disappeared and the babies were comforted with the offer to nurse once again. They went back gently.

We were smart babies; we learned quickly and early how not to use our teeth.

Mama was a natural mother but not a saint. When I went to college, I studied Spanish in northern Chile. I learned about Incan culture and their mother goddess who reminded me of my own Mama. For the Incas, the aptly named Pachamama often appears in the form of a dragon. She invokes fertility, oversees planting and harvesting — and causes earthquakes when she feels disrespected

Friday, May 2, 2014

On fear

I dreamed last night that some one was spying on me while I lay in bed. They were peaking in my mailbox and then directly at me through a gap in my curtains. 

Upon waking, I wondered why that scenario arose. It's not one I expend much anxiety on anymore. As a child, I was much more fearful of people lurking just out of view. I spent a good bit of mental energy worrying about kidnappers. After my parents went to bed, I would sneak downstairs to make sure that the doors were locked. 

My mind could be particularly cruel. It created the Toilet Witch. She looked much like any other witch — long nose, green skin and warts — but was unusual in one regard. She lived just below the toilet bowl. The flush was her doorbell. When summoned, she would emerge and pull children down into her underworld. I got in the habit of opening the door before I flushed, and then sprinting from the bathroom like a hunted animal. 

I now tell stories about the kidnappers and the Toilet Witch. I laugh about them like they were silly juvenile preoccupations.  And they were. But those feelings of terror and anxiety have never left me. They've simply reattached to threats that seem more real to my adult mind. Current fears are always more difficult to discuss than the ones I've pondered, calculated the likeliness of and then moved to their rightful place in my hierarchy of things to fear. For example, the Toilet Witch no longer figures into my schema at all — she's not real, I've learned. And kidnappers appear near the bottom of my list. I'm well past the age of their target group. 

What's more difficult for me to discuss are the fears that have replaced those earlier ones. At 29, I'm afraid of discovering that my mind is in fact vacuous and of dying from suffocation. Both are tied to real experiences. As an asthmatic, I've had horrible, sleepless nights where I simply could not get enough air. The vice grip around my chest would not ease. I know that sweaty terror, but have always rebounded. I'm afraid that one day, especially when my body is old and weak, I  won't.

But my greatest fear lies in the suspicion that my mind is dull. This figures into the trouble I have starting big writing projects. I worry that I'll get halfway into the project and find out that I actually have nothing interesting or original to say. This anxiety drives me to avoid writing. It sends me in search of distractions like Facebook. It's the voice that tells me when I get home from work to be satisfied with just watching a movie and going to bed. 

I realize that fear will find me no matter what. It finds me in adulthood and in the world of my dreams. I think it finds everyone. It's customized. For me, it takes great courage to pick up a pen. I confront fear with every sentence I start that I don't know how to finish.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Party like the Medieval times

My favorite artwork in my childhood home depicted a Medieval wedding scene. The poster showed an entire village with a handful of weddings underway. A regal lady decked in white sat in a carriage on her way to the castle. Another couple was entering a church. But my favorite scene was toward the bottom of the poster and showed a Gypsy wedding.

A caravan was parked at the edge of town and colorfully dressed participants were roasting a pig on a spit. They looked like they were having the most fun to me. This image of community and a giant hunk of roasting meat has occupied my imagination all these years.

When my sister announced her engagement this Christmas, my first thought was that we needed to order a pig and roast it whole just like the poster. She agreed and my mother ran with the idea and ordered a rare-breed pig from an Iowa farmer. I can't wait for the celebration in June.

In the meantime, I dreamed of more meat-roasting festivities. Easter presented the perfect opportunity to buy a leg of lamb and invite friends over to partake. A week ago I started researching local Vermont farmers who were raising and selling lamb. I found the 3 1/2-pound half-leg of lamb that I was looking for at the Ayer Family Diversified Farm about 20 miles from where I live.

The farmers left the store, attached to the barn, unlocked so that I could pick up my lamb after work.  With only the light shining in from outside the window, I managed to find the freezer. Through the darkness I could hear animals trodding hay and breathing. Their nearness reminded me of biblical stories of thanksgiving and celebration associated with the slaughter of baby beasts. While many Bible stories don't make sense to me, these do. The death of one thing to nourish another. And the importance of amplifying the generosity of a young calf or lamb by generously sharing its meat with others.

I left with my lamb and spent the rest of the week plotting with a friend and soon-to-be dinner guest how best to prepare it. We settled on a simple preparation of garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.

The carefully seasoned lamb went into the oven at noon on Easter. My guests and I cooked side dishes and drank wine while we waited for the meat to cook. A delicious smell of filled the room. When the lamb's outside was brown and inside still juicy, I sliced slabs from the bone and served. We toasted to friendship and spring — and then dug in.

When we disbanded hours later, all that was left was the bone.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taste the world

I'm 29 today. Yes, that's 29 revolutions around the sun. The same number of years since I made my entrance into this world — tongue out, ready to taste it all, I'm told.

Here's documented evidence:

In that same spirit, I've been traveling to see and spend time with friends over the past few weekends, which also explains my absence from this blog.

There was a trip to Washington D.C. Although I missed the cherry blossoms by a week, I got to see my dear friends, Kevin and Harum, as well as the magnolias.

Then an overnight in Montreal with my friend Christine. We walked 10 miles through the city and ended the day eating cake in bed. 

Twenty-eight has not been all play either. It was also the year that I learned to stand on my own two hands.

I'm looking forward to 29 — to travel, friends and learning new things. Here's to passing go, and starting another revolution.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The voice of admonishment and comfort

I imagined a voice that sounded much like my mother's saying, "This is what happens when you overdo it and don't get enough sleep."

She's right of course, but I felt frustrated with that all-knowing voice rather than my lack of ability to scale back plans and let some things pass. There are times when self-loathing comes easily; this was not one.

In order to earn my sore throat, achy muscles and alternating sweats and chills, I woke up at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to make the hour-and-a-half drive around Lake Champlain so that I would arrive in Essex, N.Y., in time for my friends' sunrise vernal equinox party. The bagel shop was open when I left and I bought a dozen fresh from the oven. Just as I drove into Essex there was a hot pink sunrise and my Uncle Louis was walking down Main Street toward the gathering. I picked him up and we went together to enjoy food, poetry and friendship — all well worth my while.

The rest of the day was spent with my uncle and aunt. We visited the local bakery where you can always find familiar faces with which to sip coffee and snack on cinnamon buns. We lounged back at their home in front of the wood fire. We watched "Kinky Boots," inspired by a drag show that my uncle attended on a recent trip to Florida. There is no time better spent than with this couple that has known me forever and with whom I've shared laughter, tears and many many hours of conversation.

In the late afternoon, I caught the ferry (which hadn't yet started running during my early morning commute) back over to Vermont and made plans with a friend to see a live band play at an area music venue. We danced until the lights went up and the band stopped playing. By the time I climbed back in bed, I had been up for nearly 20 hours.

Sunday passed quickly with my usual routine of yoga class, meeting friends for a late afternoon drink and catching up on household chores. It wasn't until mid-afternoon Monday when I was back at work that I started to feel hoarse and shivery. That's when I heard that voice telling me that I should have done less and gotten more sleep.

But when I got home from work at midnight with a bone-aching weariness, I wanted only one thing — to call my mother and hear her tell me that I would feel better in the morning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A quartet

I spend a quite bit of time for work and pleasure thinking about how stories are made. I learned most of what I know from reading and writing, and some from just listening.

Saturday night, my friend Rick invited me to attend an Extempo storytelling event, a Vermont-version of "The Moth." Rick who is a poet and teacher also likes good stories and has studied their construction for more years than I.

The event was held in a coffee shop in Barre, Vt., and featured nine storytellers of various ages and abilities. The culmination involved a panel of judges choosing their favorites. Between Rick and I, we correctly guessed the second-place tie as well as the overall winner. 

Although not a winner, we both agreed that another storyteller had been successful. The heavyset, suspendered man had attempted the unconventional form (at least for this event) of offering a quartet of vignettes from his childhood. The scenes represented important moments of intimacy and personal truth.

Though none of the four stories attempted to illustrate large life lessons, Rick and I agreed their seeming simplicity disguised the storyteller's skill in selection and delivery. Though not a winner, he did a damn good job.

Here's a quartet of my own inspired by events from the weekend.

She carried lipstick and gum in her purse, and I loved her for painting my lips pink in a bathroom in Budapest. She showed the four-year-old me how to rub my lips together and then gave me a stick of gum to chew. I felt sophisticated for the first time as we rejoined my mother and baby sister at the tourist lookout. The lipstick eventually wore off and I'm still chasing the feeling. 

This particular path of devotion was a two-hour trip down a one-lane road to the town of Rutland, Vt. She suggested we meet for lunch at this halfway point between her home and mine. Delayed by a slow-moving truck, she was there when I arrived. Still taller than me, still wearing lipstick.

I went with the waitress' suggestion of cookie a la mode. She brought it in a cast iron skillet with two spoons. She took a scoop, then me. She, then me. I wasn't particularly hungry after the BLT, but still savored the sweetness.

Coffee done, bill paid, we walked up the street to her car. She pulled from it a western-style feather coat that had been her mother's. I tried it on. It felt warm and the silver buttons were engraved with patterns. I pulled up the fur hood and felt small and cozy in the puff of the coat, in the presence of this woman who will always be taller, always carry lipstick. 

Me and Marla

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New plates, still a flatlander

I am now the owner of a car, with all new tires, registered in Vermont.

My parents generously transferred the deeds to the car I drove east when I moved, which gave me a month to get it registered. The process involved a morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles and then a trip to my local mechanic for an inspection.

Duncan's is owned by a woman named Kelly, who is rugged and kind. The combination of strength and softness that I admire. She wears Carhartts has short cropped hair and calls me "Em" or "Bud," and once "my little chickadee."

I left my car with Kelly, and when I came to pick it up the next morning found out that it would not pass inspection unless I had all my tires replaced. I went with the cheaper of the two tire models that Kelly had priced, and came back the following day to pick up my car to the tune of $400 — reasonable, I think, but a good chunk of my monthly earnings.

Affixed to the front and back of my car were green Vermont plates. Kelly gave me the old, dust covered blue Iowa plates in an envelope, which I mailed to my mother.

Still, I plan to keep a piece of the flatlands from where I came — all that is humble and close to the earth.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I find my ski slope, with a little help

Vermonters tell me that winter goes more easily if you pick up a hobby — mainly downhill, Nordic or snowboarding.

I guess that shifts the paradigm. A snowstorm represents the potential for fresh powder skiing rather than the dread of having to shovel out your car. The cold ensures that snow stays on the ground instead of being a nuisance.

With just one skiing experience under my belt some 17 years ago, I had the impression that it was not for me. I had spent most of that day on the bunny hill with kids half my age and when I ventured on an official ski lift, I fell off at the top and caused the entire lift to stop while I clumsily attempted to get up.

So when I listened to co-workers talk about the joys of skiing, all I felt was trepidation about coughing up something around $100 to be the bumbling overgrown bunny of the kiddy hill.

One of my co-worker, however, offered to take me Nordic skiing, which seemed like more my incline and price. Plus, she was a ski instructor. Instead of signing up for a class with 10 year olds, I could learn from a friend.

So we made Saturday plans. She reserved a chariot for her infant son, and I put off a trip to visit my aunt and uncle. We arranged to meet at noon. In a matter of 10 minutes, the baby was bundled and safely fastened in the chariot and we had clicked into our skis and were off on the trail.

There was a minute or two of clumsy wobbliness, which I liken to a baby calf adjusting to the use of its legs. My friend told me to take the worn tracks. I fell into a rhythm. We climbed a little hill and I skidded down without much control but also not too fast.

I asked for tips about gaining more control. She told me to press me the outer parts of my feet flat and to make a wedge with my skis.

We climbed a bigger hill, and I confidently started on my way down. I picked up speed. Panicked that I was going a little too fast. Made a wedge to help slow down, plowed into a drift and came to a stop on my butt. My friend said that was the most controlled fall she had ever seen. I felt good about that, hadn't hurt myself, and we kept on.

After more than two hours, I was thoroughly sweaty and the baby had woken up from his nap and was chattering in the chariot. We pulled toward the start. My friend asked if I wanted to head straight for the lodge, or should we do one small final loop.

I chose the loop.

Monday, February 10, 2014

On far-flung family, friends

What about a Google Coffee-up, a Candlelight Supper FaceTime or a plain old mobile phone conversation?

I much prefer spending time face-to-face with my family and friends. I like inviting them over, planning the menu, cooking, playing hostess, hugging goodbye. I like walking together and seeing the same things. For example, the long walks I used to take with my sister Catarina through suburban Iowa neighborhoods. We'd comment on decor, remodel choices, the potential of house to be more than what it was. Yes, walking through the world with others is definitely best.

The nomadic lifestyle I have lived for most of my 28 years has brought me into contact with new friends many times over, and also forced us apart. I'm slow to forget memories, which spurs me into the realm of technology- and U.S.-Postal-Service-assisted communication. For many years I have been an avid letter writer and regular keyboard-pals with a Chilean friend. I also speak to my Mama and siblings on a daily basis.

But the past few weeks have brought a welcome uptick in my contact with far-flung friends. Although I don't put much stock in psychic connection — again I prefer the face-to-face, hand-in-hand, hug-eachother kind — the timing is good. The darkness and cold of winter continues to keep me indoors and near my computer.

Technology has allowed me to have coffee with Harum and Charles, in Missouri and Florida, respectively; candlelight dinner with Caroline in Connecticut; mobile conversations with Amy in New York and Kevin in D.C.; and at least a dozen email exchanges with others.

I am grateful. As my physical world comprises primarily two rooms, my heart enjoys expansion across states and continents.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Strike a match

I'm in battle. The dark, deep-freeze winter has stolen so many things I love — outdoor walks, energy to write when I get home from work, sunbeams. 

I know it's not really a fight. I just have to wait her out. My task is to find alternative sources of warmth. 

There's the physical sources. Strike a match, for instance. I do so at least once a day. There's comfort in a spontaneous blue flame. Upon getting home from work, I habitually light the candles in my kitchen, and later incense sticks on my bedstand. 

Then there's my Rennai heater. With pushes of a button, the heat can easily be cranked to 70 degrees. I warm my feet with it while I wait for dinner to cook, sometimes soup or pasta or a baked potato.

But, I'm finding that these sources of comfort are as quickly extinguished as they are lit or turned up. That I need something more long-lasting. I hesitate to say that this search becomes one of spirituality at the risk of my mother telling me to go to church. 

I woke up Friday to face another frigid day, my bedroom window crusted with hoar frost. My first thought was to nuzzle my head under the blankets and pretend it was still night. I fought that urge with second thought: You're not tired. Get your ass out of bed.

And then another phrase came to mind. Not my own this time, but one from an article I read the week before: Build your own damn house. It came from the founder of the Trouble coffee shops in San Francisco. The article tracked the origins of the artisan toast to Giulietta Carrelli, who struggled for years to stay employed due to mental illness. The phrase became her motto when she finally decided to start her own business, Trouble, and build something that would not only keep her employed but also allow her build a support network to better manage her illness. (The article is quite well written. Read it here.)

While my own emotional slump is certainly less drastic, Guilietta's do-it-yourself attitude seemed like a sound approach. Rather than waiting for more pleasing circumstances to return (presumably with the warm weather), I resolved to create for myself a reason to get out of bed.

With that, I did. I fired up my computer and crafted an email to a nearby youth center asking if they might be able use a volunteer — with experience teaching English and working with inner-city youth — who had mornings free.

I later described my burst of animation to my friend Harum. She suggested that my email header might have appropriately read "Please, give my life meaning." We both laughed because it was true.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Come bearing bagels

Vermont's cold and ice has kept me in self-imposed isolation that's proved hard to shake. Outside of yoga and work, little can lure me outdoors. I'm content to spend the day in bed, which I did on Saturday.

Today, however, I had no excuses. The temperature was predicted to register in the upper 40s, and I'd promised my Aunt Jani and Uncle Louis that I would cross the lake for a visit. Louis made it clear he would prefer I arrive with an offering from my neighborhood's Montreal-style bagel maker.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I'd reserved less than a half hour to get dressed, make the bagel pickup and drive to the ferry. The Essex-Charlotte ferry, which is the fastest way to get to Essex from Burlington, has cut back its runs to once an hour for the winter season. Missing the ferry by a few minutes means the hourlong trip suddenly turns to two.

I threw on a dress over the legging and tank top that I wore to bed and managed to brush my teeth before rushing out the door and across the street where I bought a baker's dozen of still-warm bagels. With the bag in arm, I skidded across the icy parking lot to my car and drove (faster than the law allows) to the ferry launch.

At five past ten, I rounded the last corner relieved to see the ferry was still at the dock, but not for long. The dock was chained off, a sign that they would lift the plank at any moment.

I jolted into the parking lot and jumped out of the car to wave at the crew before plucking the bag of bagels from the seat. The two men took pity on me and pulled back the chain as I scissor stepped my way across the ice (careful to keep both feet on the ground lest I lose balance). They waved me on board and replaced the chain.

No sooner had the motor kicked on than three more cars pulled up to the dock. The men looked back as the ferry chugged forward.

"Guess they'll be drinking puddle water," one said.

Grateful they hadn't left me to drink puddle water, I broke my baker's dozen and offered the two a bagel. They accepted.

Once I upstairs in the heated passenger cabin,  I called my Aunt Jani. "Put on the coffee," I told her. "I've got the bagels."

Incoming view of  Essex

Baker's dozen of Myer's Montreal-style bagels

Monday, January 6, 2014

Coming down

The holiday is truly over.

I dispatched the last of my Christmas gifts yesterday when my friend Christine came across Lake Champlain to share a fancy brunch at a well-trafficked French Bistro. We ordered eggs Benedict on rice cakes and salmon tartare.

She dropped me off at my empty apartment; I had brought my friend Harum, who had been with me for a week, to the train station the previous morning.

It was time to face the list of phone calls and emails that I had put off. Time to go to the grocery store so I'd have healthy meals and snacks on hand, rather than filling in the gaps with cookies.

In the late afternoon, I slipped into a candlelight yoga class with my favorite teacher and caught up for tea with a friend. I returned home with a bag of fresh fruits and veggies.

Breakfast this morning: fruit and granola.