Sunday, February 27, 2011

Corner Table ...

When I made the reservation, I kindly requested a table somewhat tucked away.

It was a business dinner, I explained, so we needed to be seated at a table where it would be easy to converse.

I had hoped to be the first to arrive, to greet everyone, to make introductions.

But one of them was waiting. I saw him, inside, as I turned away from the valet.

"You look like a man named Tom!", I said, walking through the door.

"Beth?" he confirmed. (Though, really, he should have known by the hair.)

He hugged me, which I expected. We'd never met before, but we already knew each other well.

I handed my things to the woman at the coat check. Sheila and Jeremy arrived. I made a round of introductions and informed the hostess we were there.

The table was perfect, a corner banquette with two chairs. Cozy.

Sheila and I sat together, she across from Jeremy, me across from Tom.

What extraordinary people, those three.

The reason for our meeting I'll disclose at another time, but it was good. Beyond good. It was restorative of my faith in humanity. Which may seem like hyperbole, but it is not.

There are so many good people in the world. And they have great value individually. But when that goodness coalesces, its power is amplified.

And that's what I was privileged to witness Friday night.

People who care for caring's sake. People who care because caring is what they do. Not for financial gain. Not for notoriety. But because they can't not. Because once touched by something, they cannot turn away.

The power of kindness. Good things ahead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Here, Please ...

One of the blogs to which I subscribe is AESTHETICALLY THINKING, which never fails to wow me with its themed posts.

Beth Webb (a fellow Beth; there aren't many of us) finds the most stunning images to illustrate her points, two of which I'm sharing here in order to whet your appetite. Truly, add her blog to your RSS feed. Or, if the phrase "RSS feed" gives you hives, bookmark her site and visit often.

First off, an image from this post about steel windows and doors:

And second, an image from this post about wicker and rattan:

I need to live there. Tomorrow. Both places, ideally. I need the interior of the first image to have the outdoor space of the second image.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's The Point Of Power? ...

Wisconsin, of course.

All eyes are on Wisconsin.

And I'm sitting here thinking about power.

And I'm wondering: What's its point?

Governor Walker wants to bust up the unions. Yes, that's what he wants to do. This isn't about a state budget crisis. All that talk is a smokescreen. If this were about finances, he'd sit down with the unions who have said they're willing to make concessions. But no. Walker only wants his way. It's been reported that before he was governor, he said that he'd decertify the unions. It's also been reported that he didn't know that a governor didn't have the power to do that. But the intent was there. This Washington Post account details Walker's long-held anti-union stance.

Why decertify unions? Why take away the rights of workers to organize? Well, individual workers have very little power. But workers organized together have the strength of numbers. Individually, very little power. Collectively, some measure of power.

Why do they need power? To stand up to the entities that exist to serve their own best interests. Which is to say: money.

It's always about money.

Money is power.

Hence why the story in Wisconsin took such an interesting turn when it was learned that the billionaire Koch brothers were Walker's second-largest campaign contributors. The Koch brothers hate unions. So, the Koch brothers bankroll a guy into office, the guy in office is then expected to do the Koch brothers' bidding.

Quid pro quo, eh?

It's Citizens United in action. Corporations now have the ability to effectively buy elections. And the elected, who will now be bought and paid for, don't even have to disclose their benefactors. Though based on the way they vote, we'll probably be able to guess.

All of this is about the pursuit of power, right? Whoever has the most money can influence elections to elect the people who will do the bidding of those who put them in office, to pass legislation that benefits their interests, so that they, in turn, can make even more money, and with that money grab hold of even more power, and on up the spiral they go.

But what's the point?

No, really, I'm asking: What's the point?

If you want to earn a lot of money in order to effect positive change in the world, right on, mister. Let me shake your hand.

It's not as though I think Bill Gates set out expressly to become a multi-billionaire, but now that he is, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing incredible things around the globe to help humanity on many levels.

Why? I expect the simple answer is something like: "Because it's the right thing to do."

I mean, how many billions can you stash away in investments or wherever billions are stashed? (I have no idea. I'm sure it's an issue I'll never face.)

How many homes can you buy, how many jets, how many sports franchises, how many diamonds, how many cars, how many whatevers? At some point, some people seem to think, "Well, I can't possibly ever spend all this money. I don't want to buy another company. I don't want a bigger empire. OK, let's give a lot of it away."

Mark Zuckerberg recently made a pledge to give away a lot of his wealth. Some rich people seemed rather pissed off by that.

But back to my question about power: What's the point?

So you have a lot of money and you have a lot of power. And? Like I said, if you're using it to benefit mankind, that's awesome.

But if you're hoarding it, if your sole pursuit is simply to expand your wealth in order to expand your power to expand your wealth to expand your power?

You do know that you're going to die someday, right? Just like everybody else?

So you're going to pass it on to your heirs?

OK. What are they going to do with it? Live a life of luxury, make more money to get more power to make more money to get more power? OK. And then they're going to die someday, too.

So what's the point? What's the point of the Koch brothers and their fiendish pursuit of power? And yes, I mean fiendish. They've effectively brainwashed an entire segment of the population. Members of the Tea Party might like to tell themselves that they're a grassroots movement and they may have started out that way, but folks, they're puppets now. They were bussed in to Madison yesterday to protest the protesters. The "grassroots" Tea Party, so opposed to government intrusion, was in Madison yesterday siding with the government.

I'm not saying there should be no distribution of wealth. Everything shouldn't be exactly equal. But how is it OK for the wealth to be so hyperconcentrated at the top while so many at the bottom literally suffer? At what point doesn't a conscience kick in to say, "Wait a minute. I have ten billion dollars. And you're going to die because you can't afford your medication?"

My brain can't fathom how anyone can find that acceptable.

My feeling about money has always been this: I want enough money so that I don't have to worry about money.

If I ever come into a great amount of money, I'm very sure that I'll give a lot of it away. Because what's the point in keeping it? How much does any one person need?

For my birthdays, I've started asking people to contribute to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in lieu of buying gifts. Because while it's very nice of my friends to want to buy me presents, I have far more than I need and I'd much rather know a family is going to be able to eat for a week instead.

And maybe some people can't understand why I would do that just as I can't understand why they wouldn't.

But at the end of the day, why are we here if not to leave the world a little better than we found it?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why I Am Not A Poet ...

I'm culling books from my collection.

And I'm flipping through each volume to extract anything I might have stuck between the pages long ago.

So far, I've found boarding passes, gift enclosures from folks who have sent books, a business card from a guy I once fancied (he wore suspenders; at the time, I found that charming), a Xerox of a map of Connecticut (apparently I was plotting a vacation blitz to see Connecticut-dwelling friends), a photo of me and an ex, a belated birthday card that was included with a belated birthday gift of the book in which I found the card, a birthday lunch seating chart (yes, I think about who will sit where), and a poem.

Well, it's kind of a poem. Really, it's just 44 words of insipidness, 58 syllables of "What was I thinking?"

Shall I embarrass myself here? Oh, why not:

I ache behind the garden

madly dreaming of his

bare skin always sweet

Her black light smears

their essential language

Above him moon music will play on

As only our sky blue sea

lives as a watery forest

and we are near each other


It's surely no Ode to Vermin. Now that's a triumph of language!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Unshelfless ...

I have these shelves, see?

Built-ins. They flank my fireplace. Shelves above, storage below.


And I have books, see? A lot of books. More books than I have space on shelves, but I love my books and it pains me to let them go. So I thin, selectively and infrequently. But the time has come to thin again.

I've been looking at my books and thinking that there's got to be a better way. Right now, I have them divided and grouped. To the right of the fireplace, cookbooks. To the left of the fireplace, fiction and non-fiction, biography and photography and history and anatomy and biology (hey, I was pre-med; they still interest me), self-help and design.

The cookbooks are grouped by cuisine or type or sometimes author. All the cookie books are together, naturally, but they are part of a larger baking group.

The other books are grouped by genre, fiction by author (all the John Irvings together, Barbara Kingsolvers, etc.). It all makes sense to me.

But the shelves, they're crowded, no room to breathe. And one day, the verticality began to irk me. All those books, lined up, book after book after book. And then I ran across a picture in a magazine of a bookshelf that features books both horizontally and vertically. Not horizontally as a pleasant pedestal for an objet, oh no. Just oases of books stacked up, lying down, amid a forest of books typically shelved.

So I tried that.

You know what?

It creates more of a jumble. My books looked less like books and more like a quilt.

Here are a couple of shelves of cookbooks. See what I mean?

No, no, no, no, no.

So the time has come to thin. I culled many books last year and gave them away to good homes and charities. Now the time has come again.

I can't imagine parting with too many cookbooks, but I can take a good whack at the other side. At the very least, I can pack some away.

No, no. Give them away, Beth. Give them away. Move 'em on out. Let your bookshelves breathe.

But what of certain paperbacks. They're not so fetching.

Baskets, I thought, and measured the shelves for depth.

Initially, I thought about something basic, like this:

But surely there had to be more out there.

I thought perhaps of some sort of wire baskets from a locker room gone by. Or maybe these, from the modern day:

But if I don't want to see paperbacks on the shelf, why would I want to see them in a wire basket?

This guy's dimensions rock:

But could he be more boring?


This dude offers a little more interest:

But then I found these:

Ooh, the color! And I hadn't considered wood.

I think those might be the winner.

But first, to thin.

(To make room for more.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Unbearable Darkness Of Beings ...

Has humanity become more cruel?

Or has the Internet simply given the multitudes an outlet to put their hate on display?

Perhaps, before, it was hidden, known only to an immediate few. But now, with the click of a button, it races around the world.

When the news broke yesterday about Lara Logan's beating and sexual assault in Egypt, I was sickened to see how quickly the comments appeared that condemned her and condemned every Middle Easterner, too.

Logan shouldn't have gone to cover the story, the critics wrote, because she's white and attractive. What did she think was going to happen? It was her own fault.

I couldn't believe what I was reading. Yes, how dare a reporter go to Egypt to cover one of the biggest stories of her lifetime and have the temerity to have blonde hair?


And see?, other commenters wrote, this is all we can expect from the savages in the Middle East.

Yes, because rape has never occurred on Westernized, "civilized" soil, right? Domestic violence is just a myth. All those bruised and battered women, they all just walked into doors.

What the hell is going on?

Even much more mundane stories about celebrity trials and tribulations are overrun with gleeful snark.

When did empathy become such a rare commodity?

A friend of mine wrote on Facebook the other day about a woman who was mocking a family who had lost an unborn child.

I can't fathom anyone having the capacity to be that cruel.

And what scares me most is the pace at which I see it all devolving.

Is it temporary, born out of stress and fear? Or is this the downward arc of humanity? Can good really triumph over evil? Or is this the journey into the heart of darkness?

I vow to be more kind.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Good Day ...

A dozen roses did not arrive at my door.

The mailman did not bring a valentine.

A significant other will not be joining me for dinner.

This has been a really good day.

Not because I was able to steep myself in my hatred of Valentine's Day. I don't hate Valentine's Day. And I don't understand those who do. Why spend the day wallowing in misery? If you radiate that kind of energy, you know what you're going to get? More of the same.

I suppose if you're someone who's been in a relationship (or relationships) and spending Valentine's Day with someone is your norm then spending Valentine's Day alone may feel more stark.

But alone is my Valentine's status quo.

And as such, as I was saying, this has been a really good day.

I did chores.

I ran errands.

I saw my mom for a few minutes. (She stopped by with some dark-chocolate Frangos. And some instant lottery tickets. I got bupkis. She won.)

I puttered around the kitchen. (I can't remember the last time I diced something.)

I made myself a martini.

I put Keith Jarrett on to play.

I made the rounds, closing curtains, bringing up lights, my evening routine.

I put on comfy clothes.

And I settled into this chair, with my laptop on my lap, and I couldn't be more content.

I, right this moment, have an awesome life.

I feel no sense of lack.

I have family and friends who love me.

I have my health.

I have a warm home.

I have food to eat.

I have more luxury around me than many, many, many other people on this planet.

How unfortunate it would be to choose to focus on absent trappings.

I like flowers, don't get me wrong. (Irises top the list, for reference's sake.)

And cards are nice. I received one of those. On Saturday. From a friend.

Chocolates? Mom covered that base.

So, a relationship? Maybe one will come along. Maybe one won't. One that lasts, that is. Several have come and gone.

Who knows what the future holds?

Today what I know is that this was a good day.

And may tomorrow be the same.

Today And Every Day ...

To all my family and friends who make my life so much more meaningful, ♡♡♡.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Too Much Beige ...

I am sitting in a chair that is beige. It features a floral print in plum and amber and a lovely shade of green, but still, the basis of it is beige.

I am looking at my loveseat, which is beige. It sits against a beige wall. Khaki, you might call it, but in generic terms, really, it's beige.

I hadn't realized that I'm so boring.

I thought about replacing the loveseat – at the very least, it needs new cushions – replacing it with something grey, but that piece is too small for the space (love it though I do) and now's not the best time for me to be investing in furniture.

So my brain flipped the idea around and said, "Beth, instead of buying a grey couch to put up against the beige wall, why not paint the wall grey instead?"

Ooh, good job, brain!

So off I went to my stash of paint chips (I really should just invest in a fan deck) and found one I liked. I folded it back on itself so that only my chosen color showed and put a loop of tape on the back and proceeded to stick it on various walls in the room, next to molding, next to trim, next to art. All good. I pride myself on my ability to envision an entire room from a two-inch color square.

I thought I might paint during the blizzard - what else was I going to do? – but I held off on going to the paint store.

And then, a few days ago, a magazine arrived and I sat down to read it, cover to cover, straight through, which I never do, and there, on a page, was a color that I might like even more. It's not from Benjamin Moore, which is the only paint I use, but I can certainly take the magazine to the paint store and find the appropriate chip, or perhaps just give 'em the page and say, "Here, match this, please."

Mmm, paint. I love to paint.

As for the beige chair, I'm thinking a slipcover might be the key, as I do still love this chair and his ottoman friend. It's just too much floral. My friend Nick once said that I live in a Laura Ashley house, which is hardly the case, but my affinity for floral is shifting, not completely, but it's making room for paisley. That's my latest thing. My TV room has three paisley patterns in it at the moment, so it's time to shift my paisley focus to another room in the house, lest I inadvertently conjure Prince. I think of paisley, I think of Prince.

Maybe it's a function of being stuck inside so much these days or maybe it's a function of being a visual person or maybe it's a function of getting to know a designer who recommends design books and makes me look at spaces in different ways, but I'm liking the changes that I'm making to my space.

Not that changes wouldn't have happened anyway. Since I've moved, things have changed. Rooms have been painted (then repainted), furniture has been added, furniture has been replaced, accessories have been bought, art has been bought, art has been framed. I moved from a studio into a one-bedroom into a house, so I've accumulated more stuff over time.

But this feels more active, less passive. More intentional, less by default. More about contrast in color and style, less about, well, beige.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mocha Butter Balls ...

Pop quiz!

I declared today "Try A New Cookie Recipe Friday!" because:

A) It's good to stretch one's culinary boundaries

B) It's nice to mark the arrival of the weekend with a tasty treat

C) It's beyond my baking capabilities to make oatmeal cookies without oatmeal, so I needed a Plan B

D) All of the above (but mostly C)

Yup. D.

I have oatmeal but not enough oatmeal because I've recently eaten oatmeal which has resulted in a depleted supply of oatmeal.

"Beth?", you say, in a somewhat worried tone. "Stores sell oatmeal."

Why yes, yes they do. But going to the store would have required that I make myself somewhat presentable which, today, would have required more effort than I was willing to expend in order to purchase a box of oats.

And The Oat Fairy? MIA.

So I pulled a couple of cookie books down from the shelf and looked for recipes that contained ingredients that I had on hand. Whatever I was going to make needed to contain two sticks of butter, because that's what was sitting on the counter, softened, at the stage at which I either had to bake with it or chuck it in the trash.

But I wasn't finding any recipes that qualified until I remembered the issue of Gourmet that I saved because it featured a gorgeous cookie cover, all variations on butter cookies, all made from a basic butter cookie dough.

If you've ever had Russian Teacakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes), these are like those. Except with chocolate. And espresso. Let's hear it for new treats!

Basic Butter Cookie Dough
(From Gourmet, December 1995, p. 214)

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 C. sugar
3/4 t. salt
3 large egg yolks
2 t. vanilla
4 2/3 C. all-purpose flour

In large bowl of a standing electric mixer beat together butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in yolks, 1 at a time, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in flour gradually, beating dough until just combined well. Makes about 3 pounds of dough.

Mocha Butter Balls
(From Gourmet, December 1995, p. 217)

1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough at room temperature
1/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 t. instant espresso powder
1 C. finely chopped walnuts or pecans if desired [I used toasted walnuts]
2 C. confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350º F. In bowl of a standing electric mixer beat together all ingredients except confectioners' sugar until just combined well. [Beth note: The dough will appear crumbly, but will hold together when formed.] Form dough into 1-inch balls and arrange about 3/4 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until just firm and beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, and cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Sift confectioners' sugar into a bowl. After the five minutes' cooling, toss balls, a few at a time, in confectioners' sugar, coating them well and transferring them as coated to trays to cool completely. (Before balls are stored or frozen, they can be coated lightly again in confectioners' sugar to keep them from sticking to each other.) Cookies may be store between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks frozen. Makes about 6 dozen cookies. [Beth note: The batch I made yielded four dozen.]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Good Times, February Edition ...

The February cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features deconstructed chocolate chip cookies, except I don't call them that, because I think people who refer to any food as "deconstructed" are pretentious. So, let's make up a new word: componentized! Componentized chocolate chip cookies!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Making ...

I have visions.

Not visions of significance. I do not glimpse the future. I have never been right about the lottery.

But creatively, I have visions. An image appears in my mind of something I want to make and I set about creating it, no matter if I've never created anything like it before. Better that way, actually. Once I do something, I have little interest in doing it again. What's done becomes dull and when it comes to endeavors, I crave shiny.

"Get obsessed and stay obsessed," my friend Rob wrote in my yearbook, senior year. He was a member of the faculty but also a friend, one of the grown-ups of my youth with whom I always got along better than my peers.

Often, I drift about, obsessionless, but every so often, I happen upon a bit of creative flotsam and I grab on.

To wit, a hefty handful of this weekend's hours. Time passed while I wrote and baked and styled and shot and edited and edited and I was completely unaware.

No, wait, that's a lie. I was aware. At one point, I was aware that I was profoundly hungry and then realized that I had not eaten in about 10 hours. And the light was lost anyway. So I called time on the day's creative pursuit and put a pizza on to bake.

But I was back at it this morning, then morning spilled into afternoon, and eventually I was pleased with what I had created and I set it free.

It's strange, creating and then letting it go. Because you know that no one will appreciate it in the same way. They're not able. And yet we do it anyway. Well, some of us more than others. Sometimes.

I'm reading my friend Patti Digh's Creative Is A Verb and smirking in self-recognition but feeling more than a little grateful, too.

Sometimes, more often than not, really, I feel like such a slacker, wasting my potential, as educators would say. But I don't mean to slack. I don't intend to slack. I don't wake up every day thinking, "You know what I'll do today? Nothing."

Because when I have an idea, I don't stop. I don't eat, I don't drink, I just go. I just do. I do and I redo and I tweak and I edit and I look at it differently and I do it again, that way, until that sensation arrives that it's right, that it's exactly what it should be, that moment when I just know.

I love those days, that immersion. And I know it's not sustainable. I know that I can't live in that space every moment of every day. Creativity needs lulls. Doesn't it? An engine can't run in the red endlessly. It needs time to cool down, time to refuel. But I could do with more days of obsession and fewer days lacking direction. I welcome a tip in the balance.

Or, as a friend once wrote: "Just do. Please." (I may make that a tattoo.)

Here's to doing.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Night Of The Snow ...

I poured a glass of wine and settled in.

William Ackerman's "Passage" was my soundtrack. I nestled into my comfy chair, arranged my afghan, and opened the book that a postman was kind enough to deliver as the storm was setting in.

Later, I turned the last page and turned off the lamp. The three track lights above the stairs shone dimly down the wall, the room's only illumination. I looked outside. The snow was blowing, left to right. Not falling, but being pushed, hard and fast. I wondered where it would land. Somewhere, I figured, in a field, where it would lay pristinely.

I tossed off the afghan and made my way into the kitchen with my glass of wine, a lone candle on the counter burning austerely, casting the only light. It felt like a painting in a museum, like a time before convenience, when one candle would have to make do, to conserve for the long winter.

I went to the window, marveling. It wasn't fully dark outside, so much was the light reflecting off the snow, both the snow that had landed and the snow that swirled in the air. The air looked gauzy, the light diffused, soft edges everywhere.

It was breathtaking. And I thought to myself how privileged I felt to witness it, to stand, gratefully, in my warm home, safe, and watch the storm blanket the world around me. And I thought about sleeping, about the winds whipping around my home as I dreamt under layers of cotton and down, and what I would wake to in the morning.

I wished that I had a camera that could capture it exactly, the light, the wind, the power and emotion happening on the other side of the glass. But instead I have an indelible image tucked safely in my mind, a moment fixed in time. I cannot paint it with words, but it is there for me to recall, beautiful and profound.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Two Years Ago Today ...

We would have talked about the snow.

He would have called, out of concern and fascination. He would have been watching the news.

"Hi, Beth! It's Dave," he would have said in his familiar cadence, having seen on my blog that I was OK. Otherwise, his voice would have been more grave. He worried for others more than we worry for ourselves.

But it's been two years, impossibly.

The impulses to call him have waned, but still present. Especially when I'm not sure what to have for dinner. We liked to talk about food.

He prescribed a lot of milkshakes, chocolate, of course, the best he could do to offer comfort from so many miles away.

But it was the listening that he did so well. He was an exquisite listener.

He still is, I suppose. Though it doesn't occur to me to talk to him directly.

But I'm thinking about him just now, thinking that today, he would have prescribed hot chocolate, with marshmallows and whipped cream, well earned from shoveling all the snow.

And perhaps he would have headed out into the Southern Californian sun to get a hot chocolate, too. A show of solidarity. Or perhaps his much-loved milkshake. Or orange juice, freshly squeezed.

I miss him instead.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Snow ...

Yesterday, just as the snow was beginning, I snapped a shot of the base of the birdbath in my backyard. The base is a couple of feet tall, if memory serves, give or take. It's not giant, it's not wee.

So, this was the situation about 1:30 p.m., February 1:

And this was taken about 6:45 a.m., February 2:

Pfft!, you say. That's nothing, right? That's not a blizzard.

Ah, but as we all know, blizzards are also about the blowing. And blowing leads to drifting. And drifting leads to this:

And this is what happens when you shoot in early-morning light as snow is swirling about and you forget to turn off the flash:

I dig it.

The storm is due to continue in full force through about 4 p.m. today, then begin to taper off.

Tomorrow's images may be very, very different.

Update: 11 a.m., February 2. We had a bit of a not-so-snowy lull. The storm's caught its breath again:

Update: 2:15 p.m., February 2. The snow itself has ebbed. The winds are back. The latest:

And the drift on my deck is about 4 1/2 feet high:

It's hard to believe I'll ever have to cut the grass again.

I do, however, dig the Gehry-esque snowdrifts forming on my roof. Or are they Seussical?

About 6 p.m. or so, post shoveling. Yes, shoveling. Me and three enterprising dudes. The best $60 I've ever spent. This is the end of my driveway (I have a pretty long driveway):

For scale, this is my shovel against the pile closest to the street:

It's nearly 6 feet high. And it is not the highest pile on my property.