Thursday, February 24, 2011


A friend posted this quote on Facebook recently. I don't know what prompted her to share it just then, but it was exactly what I needed.

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!...The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. 
-- Rumi, "The Guest House"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

In certain cultures, there is a strongly held belief that errant bloggers who post on Groundhog Day will continue to post regularly for the next six weeks (at least). So here goes:

Near my college apartment in Iowa there was an old rundown house lived in by a very frail old woman who rarely poked her nose outside the house.

One day when was walking by, I noticed what appeared to be a giant, truly enormous, rat sunning itself near the house's foundation.

Appalled, I stood there staring, trying to decide what to do. Clearly if I let the thing be, it would eventually kill the poor woman in her sleep.

I took a long time standing there marveling at the size of the thing, trying to decide whether I should walk back to my apartment to call the police, or wait and call from work, where I was headed.

Luckily a more worldly student walked by while I was deciding. "Hey, check out the groundhog," she said.

... I still wonder what those cops would have said.

And now I love groundhogs. (I just don't have any pics of them.)

PS I have a coworker whose birthday is today and I swear yesterday I heard someone ask her, "Have you always had your birthday on Groundhog Day?" God love her, she just said, "Yeah."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

Courtesy of my friend Shelly, who's normally very nice :-).

"Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I feel very peculiar. I feel like I've just got to bite a cat! I feel like if I don't bite a cat before sundown, I'll go crazy! But then I just take a deep breath and forget about it. That's what is known as real maturity."  ~Snoopy~

Friday, August 13, 2010


These little guys devoured my fennel plant down to a nub. Truth be told, I bought the fennel accidentally – I was in a fluster and grabbed it thinking it was dill. When I got it home and realized my mistake I wondered what I would even use the fennel for.

Still, a pest is a pest and has to go.

The first time I tried to pick one of these off the fennel, though, it shot out a long yellow antennae-like thing from behind its head and tried to fight me off. I’m sure the neighbors appreciated my scream.

This made it even worse. Instead of just a funky, harmless caterpillar, this thing became something to fear. The yellow thing was obviously a weapon of some sort -- what if it could sting?

I then enlisted Todd, who, using some chopsticks he found in the kitchen drawer, picked them off the plant and dropped them onto a nearby bush.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after we did this that I was talking to a friend and, sitting there, she typed the description into Google. Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Turns out these funky looking things that we’d judged to be pests are the caterpillar of the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly. That weird yellow thing is called an osmeterium. It releases a bad smell that’s meant to run off predators. But it doesn’t sting. And it’s harmless to people.

The caterpillars like to feed on fennel, dill and parsley. Apparently fennel is their favorite, since they left my parsley untouched.

We’d already spotted several of the butterflies around the yard. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this guy was at least 6 or 7 inches across. Spectacular. When we saw them, we’d stop what we were doing just to watch and to appreciate how incredible they were.

Once I realized what we’d done by picking them off their food source and tossing them away, I felt sick to my stomach. And sad. Regret is the worst feeling of all, I think. Had I known what they were, I would have nurtured and encouraged the caterpillars – and seen them as the gift they were. But in my ignorance, I judged wrong, and maybe even killed the little guys. Because I acted out of fear and ignorance, I cost the world – and myself – something truly wondrous.

It never even occurred to me that they were something special.

I try so hard not to make prejudgments, particularly about people – and I think I do pretty well at not judging based on the BIG things – skin color, religion, sexual preference. But this made me wonder how often I make erroneous judgments based on smaller details without even realizing what I’m doing.

We have a temp at work -- a pretty, intelligent young woman who does a great job. But she walks around with a sour expression on her face much of the time and rarely meets anyone’s eyes. After seeing her expression day in and day out, I began to think of her as just a surly person, not friendly, not particularly worth getting to know. But then the other day her supervisor mentioned to me that the girl has been facing some hard times.She doesn't smile because she's miserable.

So she’s not a surly person unworthy of friendship; she’s an unhappy one who probably desperately needs kindness.

Maybe underneath she’s actually a butterfly.

This weekend I’m going in search of another fennel plant. Keep your fingers crossed that my “pests” consider it an invitation to return. And next summer, there will be a whole patch of fennel.

I drafted this yesterday, and this morning I saw an Eastern Swallowtail butterfly in our yard. I'm choosing to believe at least one of our poor caterpillars survived our mistreatment.

And the young woman I mentioned? After a presentation I gave today, I received the nicest note from her telling me she'd enjoyed it.

In this moment, all is well, and that's about all anyone could ask for.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How cool is this?

I picked up a copy of Travel & Leisure magazine the other day.

Inside was this:

It's a story on "Undiscovered Tuscany," in the case of this photo spread, the town of Lucca.

That photo of the scooter in the center rang a bell, so I went through the ones I took when we were in Lucca last year. I found this one:

If you look closely (you can click to enlarge the top one), you'll see it's the very same street.

Writing and shooting for a travel magazine is one of my biggest dreams. Maybe it's not all that far out of reach.  :-)

What's your biggest dream?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Working without a script

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of copy editing a book of newspaper columns by a veteran reporter. All of those columns had been written on deadline, in the heat of the moment. They were wonderful, but with the luxury of hindsight, he saw every place where they might have been better. He fretted that this book, essentially his legacy, would be judged harshly because the columns were not perfect.

I came across this poem today and it reminded me of that reporter, whose fears I understand more and more the older I get. It would be nice to rehearse our lives, wouldn't it? To take the time to think through every action, to know "what the play is about." 

But we just have to take it as it comes -- and forgive ourselves when the action in the moment doesn't quite measure up in hindsight. 
Life While-You-Wait
Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run ?
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).
You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.
 -- Wislawa Szymborska

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where I've been

Last week I had the chance to travel to Maine on a business trip. My husband couldn't go along, so I turned it into a bit of a personal retreat. The fact that it was the week directly preceding my birthday made it a perfect time for reflection.

I always prefer to have Todd with me, but I also realize I tend to depend on him a lot to navigate us through unfamiliar situations. It was good to remind myself that, while having someone to depend on is a lovely luxury, I can manage on my own when I need to.

Everything you've heard about the beauty of Maine is absolutely true. It was a lovely trip. I'll definitely be going back -- and taking Todd with me next time. Here are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took.

Portland. This public park slopes down to the water. People were there walking their dogs and lying in the sun. Heaven.

Wiscasset, just before the clouds broke.

Boothbay Harbor

Boothbay Harbor

Along Route 238 on Capitol Island.

Cape Elizabeth

The view from Cape Elizabeth -- that's Portland in the distance.

Another view of the Cape Elizabeth lighthouse. There's a marker here on the stone where Longfellow sat to write "The Lighthouse." Note the little sailboat between the rocks.

And of course, the lobster. One of several I had while there. I have equal parts pleasure and guilt over this. In the moment it was mostly pleasure.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Milk Bones

Today, as I drove back from lunch, a falcon flew across the road just in front of my car, a white mouse in its beak.

For a moment, because I was feeling preoccupied with my life's little dramas, I wondered if it was some sort of omen, a metaphor for something. And then, only half seriously, whether in that metaphor I would be the falcon or the mouse :-)

Tonight as I walked my dog, the nice old lady who sits on her porch and talks to the passersby called to me. She lives alone. Her children live far away and her husband died years ago. "I have water for the dogs," she said, "And Milk Bones." She doesn't have a dog.

I walked up her driveway to chat a minute, and to my surprise my finicky dog not only accepted the Milk Bone but laid her head affectionately in the old woman's lap.

"A robin built a nest outside my back door," the woman told me. "Between the two lights. One of the baby birds was flapping, flapping, flapping its little wings, and it fell out of the nest, onto the patio. I watched it, just lying there, trying so hard to fly. Its little legs were like sticks, but with the mother's help, it crawled away under the bushes.

"The mother will take care of it. As long as no critter finds it, it will be all right."

"Life is a struggle," she said. "From the moment you're born." She smiled and shrugged as if to say there was no help for it.

As I walked away, she called to another neighbor, and I saw that woman head up the driveway to chat a moment.

At home my roses have burst into glorious pink blossoms. The hydrangea, planted three years ago, has finally put forth some buds -- hundreds of them. And the little peony managed a second bloom.

The cat lolled in the driveway, and the dog lay down in the thick grass nearby. It was a perfect late-spring night. I let go of the things that had been bothering me and just let the beauty of the evening soak in.

We all have our struggles. Sometimes we're the falcon, sometimes the mouse. Sometimes we're the baby robin, flapping desperately just to stay alive.

Sometimes we're the person left all alone, through no real fault of our own.

There's no help for it. We can sit inside our empty houses, letting life pass us by, or we can buy a box of Milk Bones and set out a dish of water.

When given the choice, choose the Milk Bones.

The peony's second effort. Hard to believe this is the same plant as the one below.