Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I tilt toward nurture.

(I was eyeballing all the winter dust balls in my house and these thoughts tumbled out.)

Nature or nurture? I tilt toward nurture. From an early age, I was in a convent boarding school where the only thing I knew of cooking was an occasional sighting of Sister Joseph appearing flushed and waving a wooden spoon. The only thing I knew of housework were the smells of institutional cleaning solutions on the dormitory floors. The only thing I knew of affection were the over the top crushes the girls had on each other. The only thing I knew of life work was marrying Jesus and being devoted to his teachings.

Here’s my adult report card on cleaning house, cooking, affection, money and life’s work.

I don’t know how to keep a house. My house is not filthy like a gas station bathroom is filthy but it is unkempt (why is that ‘m’ in that word?) When I finally clean, I clean like a neurotic down to toothbrush scrubbing the blender buttons. I don’t clean often enough. Likewise out of doors. When I finally rake the leaves, I pick up every tiny speck of non-grass but some years (this year) I only rake the front to look good for the neighbors and leave the back messy and troubled.

Cooking was self-taught although both men and women in the family were all fantastic cooks and I stored some know-how for making good tabouli. After college, I knew how to broil chicken. (Broiling is what you do with the small compartment below the regular oven). Newly married, I opened up the new unabridged Gourmet Cookbook but when I read a recipe that began hang three ducks for six days, I closed it. I don’t know how to bake anything except a potato and maybe an okay quiche. Oh, and a ham that only needs heating.

I have a strange association with money. (Notice how I skipped “affection”). My father was very wealthy but would have been happy to spend $0.00 and tried his best to do so. He and his brother owned a boutique department store on the most visible corner of Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C. At one time it had two branches in Bethesda, Md. and further along Connecticut near DuPont Circle. It had a Frenchy name: Jean Matou, La Maison de Trousseau. During the war, I was told that the Saah brothers sold bootleg silk stockings. Silk was rationed to make parachutes and women used to draw a seam on the back of their legs because they couldn’t buy hose. My father took the bus to work every day and went in early to sweep his own shop.

Fast forward: I can comfortably lose big sums of money and I can give money away but I have a hard time purchasing. I tend to return most things because I can’t have them around me. I found out in middle age that I love retail selling (duh). Putting my books up on the kindle has satisfied my passion for commerce. It is the best of all neurotic be-like-daddy worlds. I haven’t yet asked to sweep the Amazon warehouse.

What about affection, love, intimacy? I’m still trying to figure all of that out. I thought I had figured it out but then came four irresistible grandchildren.

(If you like tabouli, look for "Tabouli Smackdown" recipe in the December blogs.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Goodnight Moon for Grandma

In a small white room
There was a queen bed
And a cream Panama hat
And a picture of vegetables from a farmer that’s fat
And a Wonder Pets song stuck in a head
And a slippery quilt too small for the bed
And two ponytail bands and Burt’s Salve for the hands
And two socks on the floor, and Crocs by the door
And some Tylenol gels and some lavender smells
And some thoughts of the heart
And some thoughts of not smart
And creaks in the wall where mice like to crawl
And a drawer that’s a mess and a voice whispering “less.”

Goodnight room. Goodnight moon
Goodnight hat and the farmer that’s fat
Goodnight song that’s stuck so long
Goodnight socks and goodnight Crocs
Goodnight chapped hands and ponytail bands
Goodnight gels and goodnight smells
Goodnight fears and goodnight tears
Goodnight heart and woman not smart
Goodnight creaks and goodnight mess
Goodnight all voices whispering “less.”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

#SampleSunday: "I'm so worried and afraid."

(A sample from One Hundred Open Houses,the book that saved me."

“All my stocks have gone down. I’m so worried and afraid.“- Itzonlyphil

It’s been very windy for the last few days. When you are in wind, you can’t think of anything but the wind. I just read a book that frequently describes the outdoors. It describes the colors of morning and evening as they invade and enhance the rooms in a small apartment. It describes the blue of the sky reflected in a river. After reading all of this loving observation, I realize the only thing I notice is the wind. I don’t like wind and yet it’s the only thing I describe. I’m all closed up about the visuals. When I tell Maggie about this – that I don’t describe the outdoors, she says, “Good. People just want to know what happened.”
I have to park the car far away from the office because the “season” is almost here and the parking rules have changed. By the time I get inside, I’m relieved to be there and I’m happy to see Louise. Because the office is warm and I had a brisk walk to get there, sitting at my desk and opening my e-mail feels good.
On Channel Five, which I’ve started to watch in the early morning, they say we are addicted to e-mail and now that you can check it from your Blackberry or some other portable device, you can indulge this worthless addiction at every moment. Whenever I e-mail a high executive I notice they e-mail me right back. Please distract me from this humdrum existence that has no discernible meaning. Life can be humdrum unless you are trying to save yourself in a tsunami or have locked yourself out of the car and are trying to think of ways to get in. That distraction factor, however, is responsible for people losing a big chunk of their lives. You think – how did it get to be 2006, it was just 1998 a minute ago. Dr. Phil will beat you down on this issue and exhort you to shape up, get rid of the remote, get rid of the Blackberry and face your life. But let’s think about this a minute. Suppose there’s nothing much down in the sinkhole where you stuff all the things that made you what you are? And suppose even if you have the energy and the bucks to dig it up, you can’t do anything about it? You are always going to have that nervous laugh and the receding chin isn’t going anywhere either.

It is on mornings like this, when life seems pleasant, that you have to remember your goal and not just fall back and say, “oh, this is nice.” Everything – yes, everything, is conspiring to keep you in the status quo. The little dumb baby inside you is just wailing to hear the same story for the millionth time. And it is a dumb baby, trust me. You have to shake some sense into that baby and say, look, I’m sick of that story, so just shut up. You’re getting something else.
My line of credit came through from the South Fork Bank and I have the money all ready to go – it feels very responsible, although the whole premise of banking is nuts. I’ve left two messages with Kay Kimbel about 6-B but she has not returned the calls. When I call the general number of CityDwell, they tell me she does work there and checks her voice mail every few hours.
On the financial front, that stock that management wanted to steal from me keeps going up. I have no idea why. It trades on the pink sheets. No, I don’t know what that means although I have an idea that some stocks are thought to be “naughty” and not fiscally sound and they can’t trade on the regular markets although god knows a lot of really bad stuff goes on there, too.
I go to the New York Times Real Estate site and print out all of Sunday’s open houses. It’s late spring so there are lots of choices. After I have my little stash of goal candy to keep me on track, I return to work.
Two of the e-mails are from potential sponsors: the private banking division of a big financial institution and a new magazine that is going to be launched in the Fall. The new magazine is a lifestyle magazine. Who is reading all of these magazines? In this resort town, dozens of magazines are given away free. They are stacked on the street or in the supermarket. I don’t get it. Have you ever done anything a magazine has told you to do? I did once. A magazine gave me a picture-by-picture blueprint for making manicotti with home made wraps that now I know were crepes. I made that recipe at least a hundred times during twenty-three years of marriage. You’d think I would have remembered how to do it, but I dragged out that torn, stained page every time. Altogether, I cooked about 7000 evening meals. Probably more.
The private banking division wants to bring twenty of their best clients to the Festival and give them entrée into a situation that would not be available to them even though they have bucks coming out the wazoo. They don’t want the movies. The private banking clients can probably buy the freaking theater and see all the movies they want. What they are hoping to experience are the exclusive private parties with stars. The bank people want to say to their private clients – because you let us play with and often mismanage your millions, we will reward you with the opportunity to rub shoulders with movie stars. Is it any wonder celebrities are nuts. Look at what a commodity they are. I take the whole issue to Shana and she says to me: “Give them everything – a concierge, five star accommodations, private transportation and, if they want, a private screening with a party afterward. I have no idea where we are going to get a concierge (or even what that concierge will do) although on paper it looks like we know what we are doing.
I won’t tell the Bank that there is no guarantee that any star we invite will actually show up. Celebrities are notorious for not showing up. A lot of stars we invite get sick at the last minute – one died.
The magazine, thank god, is not a competitor of the pseudo porn magazine. It’s called Minimal. The basic premise is that you are better off if you can make do with a toothbrush and a bowl. All the other stuff is weighing you down. I used to like Real Simple until they began getting too cute on me. It’s okay if dental floss has an “aha” use for mending a button, but after a year of wracking their brains they are now saying you can use bubble wrap to protect your fruit from bruising – that’s when I lose interest. Now if they are willing to get “dark” I can give them “aha” uses a plenty. Scrub the kitchen floor with a bad carpenter, for example.
I call the marketing directors of the bank and the magazine and outline what I can offer them. I’ve become very good at this part of the process. I ask them to tell me their objective and then outline how we can fulfill it. Sometimes they ask for specific events and I say, ‘no, that’s not the target audience you are after.” When I say that to a sponsor I feel like a competent facile little marketing whiz. Who knew all this business know-was buried inside a whacky aging soccer mom?
I create two proposals, e-mail them and then answer the rest of the e-mails most of which are from other sponsors in various stages of the process.
I open the Yahoo home page for the first time that day and go to the message board of a stock I had chased and then abandoned because it ran away.
ItzOnlyPhil has posted this pathetic message. :
I think now is the time I should take my small loss because all these guys make a lot of sense. I was bamboozled. I should not have bought a stock that was going up – Jed says they sometimes go down – I should have listened to him. It has gone down…all my stocks have gone down. I’m so worried and afraid.
I hear you brother.
It’s Ben’s birthday today and at Mass I said his name. I said: for my son Ben who was born on this day. Ben’s going to come and visit on Saturday. This is how I usually get ready for my second child. I take a shower and blow-dry my hair. I put stuff under my eyes that takes away the puffiness and pulls the skin tight (I know! but more about that another time.) I definitely clean up the house. I put on a Louis Armstrong sings with Ella cd that he gave me two Christmases ago. I buy a big ham because twice he’s mentioned ham and I fed him something else. I try to get some good movies because we like to watch movies together. I pull all the weeds out of the rock bed he created where I needed better drainage to remind him how great the project came out. He’s going to want to climb up on the roof and clean out the problem gutter, but I’ll tie him up if I have to. I don’t care if the house falls down; I never again want him to climb up that steep slope.
My friend Ned – the Ned who is blindingly handsome - came to clean my gutters last Fall (not the scary gutter). He brought another handsome man with him and that was good because he was a surgeon and really knew how to clean out small spaces. I know this sounds preposterous but its true. One held the ladder and the other scooped matted wet leaves out of the gutters. I gave the surgeon an old sock and had the nerve to ask him to wipe out the last bits with it. When they finished, I cooked them omelets with pesto and goat cheese and we sat around.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

E-warning! I'm going to ramble. (Redux)

(I posted this blog in September but given the slow pace of economic recovery, thought it deserved a re-run)

The poverty level in the U.S. has risen for the fourth straight year. I don’t have a clear idea of what poverty means today. When do you reach that point where you say: “Oh, I’m at the poverty level. How did this happen?”
The conservative Heritage Foundation says living in poverty is better than many people imagine. (Possibly because none of the members has lived in poverty.) Due to housing and food subsidies, poverty doesn’t necessarily exclude having a television or two, a computer, internet service, a dishwasher or Nike sneakers. You might not be able to afford a personal trainer but you can probably get a free gym membership. Even if you’re not quite at the poverty level there are many handouts for people whose income is under a certain amount. You can receive help with your heating bill and your electric bill. You can get food stamps and could spend them on Lays salt and vinegar chips and Entenmann's powdered donuts if you wanted to.
I have some markers for what rich means. Rich is going into Citarella and throwing some Tuscan herbs into the cart without a thought even though they are 3.95 for .56 oz bringing the per pound price to $125. I don’t know if Citarella takes food stamps but I’d like to see the cashier’s face when someone hands them in. (Citarella is where I buy mesclun. It’s loose and has a good ratio of radicchio and frisée to baby beet greens, etc.)
Rich sometimes means being able to take a long hot shower any time it suits you. A long hot shower especially if the shower has a built in seat and is exclusively yours, is an activity that makes me feel financially healthy if not outright rich. Also keeping the house at 72 degrees in winter. Whenever anyone walks into my house in winter they say, “It feels good in here.” You bet it does.
Poverty level varies wildly depending on the city you live in. In New York City, you can be at the poverty level and make $100,000 a year not only because of the high rents and high food costs but because the figure messes with your good sense.
“Hey, mom, guess how much this job pays a year?”
“How much?”
“Wow, Bobby, that’s a lot.”
Bobby begins charging like an AlphaPower Battery and pretty soon his Visa bill is at $30,000 from eating out and taking trips and buying rounds of drinks and before you know it Bobby is in debt and having to call Suzy Orman’s show and ask her to approve any purchase.
There are no subsidies that dispel the psychological disgrace a father or mother might feel when the family slips into the poverty level. The Brookings Institution says that in spite of having certain amenities, poor families face severe challenges. They probably have, as the Department of Agriculture so romantically puts it “food insecurity.” That’s a phrase I would use for single males living alone but it turns out it’s a phrase the Agriculture Department has for poverty level citizens. I take back everything I’ve thought and said about the dullness of government bureaucrats. Somebody there had an existential thought:
“What shall we call it when people feel they won’t be able to buy the food they want?”
“Call it food insecurity.”
Again this doesn’t mean that you don’t have the staples or that you can compete in the poverty sweepstakes with a family from Bangladesh. It only means you have free-floating anxiety about your food supply. (Many middle-class families also have free-floating anxiety about food when tomatoes are 3.29 a pound.) The Department of Agriculture says 17.2 million households were defined as “food insecure” last year.
Even if you are living at the “poverty level” you are not destitute - a word you don’t hear much about. The dictionary defines destitute as: lacking the necessities of life and the synonyms are penniless, impoverished, insolvent, on the breadline. I have not seen any statistics for people who are destitute.
The truly forgotten when it comes to the empathy spotlight is the middle-class, the breadwinners who are just barely hanging in there. These families earn too much to qualify for subsidies and earn too little to avoid constant worry. They are “future insecure.” They have to make ends meet all on their own and there is no safety net.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"I'm with the rescue boats."

Hop scotching over the news.

In the phrasing is everything department:
“Get back on board!” De Falco (Coast Guard) to the Captain of the Costa Concordia.
“I’m with the rescue boats.” Captain Francesco Schettino.

In the equal opportunity department:
People are all upset about the image of President Obama on the cover of Newsweek.
“ He looks terrible, and surprisingly like Jimmy Carter, even down to the downturned liverish lips and incipient jowls.”
Let’s not forget Michele Bachman’s cover where Newsweek gave her those googly unfocused eyes. It all evens out.

In the giggling over excess department:
Poor Paula Dean. Yes, she sort of withheld the truth. Is that lying? (I think lying has its place.) Yes, she is now being compensated by a drug company that provides relief for diabetics. Yes, she doesn’t make sense when she begins to defend the timing of her revelation. Maybe all that maniacal giggling over her excess that goes on in the cooking show is not put on. Okay here’s our problem. We thought Paula was lovable, like our ditzy Auntie Josephine. Now we find out she is an avaricious uncontrollable giggler who is slavishly devoted to money. What’s wrong with that?

Apropos of nothing remember when Christopher Hitchens called Mother Teresa an avaricious gnome? How can you not miss that guy?

Too much admiration can ruin you department:
Tom Hanks’ dog, Monty, died. That was a headline. I’m not one to feel that because our brave young soldiers are dying in foreign lands we can’t say anything fun but come on. Here’s my problem with Tom Hanks. People loved him too much and then he thought he was too special and could be good at everything. Who wouldn’t? I think his “jump the shark” moment came right after Forrest Gump. Then he began acting all “awh shucks” that was really hiding, “I’m so freaking special but I don’t want to look as if I agree.” Whenever anything good happens to me I start acting up, too, so I’m no better than Tom Hanks except no one is shoving a microphone in my face.

An irrelevant revelation department:
Newt Gingrich’s ex revealed that Newt wanted “an open marriage.” If you were named Newt and looked like a kewpie doll and some good-looking woman wanted to have an affair with you, wouldn’t you want an open marriage? Remember when Jimmy Carter admitted to having “lust in his heart.” In the Catholic Church there’s no difference between lust in your heart and lust in the bed. Thought or deed, a sin is a sin. I would give Newt a pass on this one especially since the ex who is blabbing was the “affair” when Newt was married to another.

Okay, that’s the news in a nutshell except for the irresistible clip of our President looking up at Al Green and singing a phrase from “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Have this blog delivered to your device. Whaaaat?

If you have too much money and/or are so busy that you would like these posts delivered to your phone or pad or other device without you having to give it a thought, you can subscribe to The Repurposed Writer: on the Kindle Blogs. Amazon does the pricing and at first, they put it at 1.99 a month. Recently they reduced it to 0.99 per month.

Is it worth it seeing as you can get it for free right here or by e-mail? Probably not. I have a few subscribers. Oh, and there's a two week free subscription period if you just want to try it out.

This is my best hard sell so let's see if it works. I tried to embed a link into this post, but it didn't work but you can click on the title to the right under "Consuelo's books."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Letting Spills Harden on the Stove

I divide the world into two groups. Those who wipe spills immediately and those who let them harden on the stove. Either you shrug at the pot boiling over or you cry out, obsess, remove the grate and unearth every last bit of gunk.

When a pot boils over something I gave no thought to before - pristine perfection - is now out of reach. Cleaning up the spill is my attempt at stalling the inevitable ruination of perfection. If this sounds overblown, think about the reasoning behind a “spotless” house which we are all exhorted to keep. At the root, it’s an attempt at forestalling deterioration (worse, it might be to forestall deterioration of reputation.)

Real Simple magazine devotes entire issues to help us avert cleaning remorse before it starts. If it’s not mentally healthy to keep a “spotless” house, which spots are considered okay to leave alone? Let’s say the kitchen is the room we most wish to be spotless because of the health advantage. To keep a kitchen spotless is to invite obsessive, compulsive behavior that will land us in a group home. Besides the obvious mess necessary to prepare food, there will always be something lurking behind the refrigerator or behind the stove.

There are two housekeeping maneuvers that cover my psyche with a cuddly blanket of “I’m so very okay.” 1. The look and promise of a freshly-made bed with clean sun-dried sheets and duvet. 2. A psychotically ordered linen closet where everything is folded to the same width and size the way they do the tees and jeans at the Gap.

And who was the scold that said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness?” No it wasn’t Martha Stewart. Some attribute it to Francis Bacon’s “Advancement of Learning” written in 1605 when there were no antibiotics and cleanliness gave people a shot at living past thirty. Today there is nothing next to godliness except maybe Amazon.

I thought I could extrapolate a deeper meaning out of this post but short of showcasing my slovenliness and digging into the reasons for it, I’m content to just make you feel better about the fossilized spills you may find here and there.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

“Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow” Steve Jobs

I’m still stalking Steve Jobs through his sister, Mona Simpson. In her eulogy, she said that a string of “oh wows” were Steve’s last words in the nanosecond before he left this earth. This is what I need to find out: was Steve, ever the marketeer, just hyping his new gadget, I-eternity, or did he really see something fantastic and wanted to give us the heads up.

I hope it was the latter. If we could be assured that death is just the gateway to some fantastic super consciousness, we’d all settle down and not have the death heebie-jeebies. I'd like to believe all of the “bright light” reporters who have brushed up to death but then hopped back to the other side in the nick of time. I’ve never been a fan of bright light. I like a nice contemplative half-light but I know if someone came back from the brink and said, “I saw a nice contemplative half-light,” it wouldn’t have the same punch.

I try to find clues to the afterlife by examining the unexplainable in present life. Two things that are weird: dreams and imagination. Where do we go when we dream? Last night I dreamt that instead of putting a toddler to bed, I left her in a baby carrier strapped to the washing machine. The next morning I was concerned and went to have a look. It’s hard to take action in dreams. It took me a long time to look in on the baby. She was fine. I often have dreams about forgotten babies and see them as metaphors for my abandoned writing projects. Even if that were accurate, how would it help? Is the subconscious a cranky scold pointing out my deficiencies?

For those who explain dreaming as the residue of the day that has to be purged - I say: is this a creation glitch that God didn’t feel was worth a recall? Or is it a hint of our untapped capacity and we’re still too Neanderthal to deal with the breadth of our brain power?

Then there’s the idea that this huge amount of information is stored in our heads. You have the physical part: the brain and the amorphous part: thoughts. How exactly are they stored? Volumes and volumes: You can spell and do math. I can remember all the words to Chattanooga Choo Choo. “When you hear the whistle blowing eight to the bar, then you know that Tennessee is not very far. Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’ woo woo Chattanooga there you are.” Do you keep what you know when you exit?

Then there’s the imagination. I think we’re at the horse and buggy stage of knowing what to do with our imagination. Even writers like J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien who imagined entire other worlds just have a toe in the wonders and power of the imagination.

One final thing - where do we go when we are deep in thought and oblivious to our surroundings? In those instances, we are pure consciousness. Is that a clue to life after life? It's better not to know. It would muddle up everything.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The power of soup and the power of sound.

Lately, I’m addicted to soup and eat it for breakfast and other times. I used to think I needed a lot of stuff to make soup. I used to think I needed a chicken or lamb bones or a leftover ham bone to make soup. With me, necessity was the mother of invention. I invented my quick soup because most of the time, I didn’t have the ingredients and I needed a soup fix immediately. Here’s my first instant soup recipe that takes about 4 minutes to prepare.

a can of whole tomatoes -
8 oz filtered water (omit if you like thicker soup)
1/2 cup of evaporated milk (evaporated milk has all the oomph of cream without the calories.)
two cloves garlic, splash of olive oil.
Puree the tomatoes and garlic in a blender. (I use the Oskar).
Put the puree in a pot. Add the water, milk and olive oil. Heat until it barely boils and you have good cream of tomato soup without any of the stuff they put in canned soup.

Last week I made an even better instant soup. I had a bag of spinach and leftover steamed broccoli and carrots. I put them all into my Oskar and pureed, added filtered water, evaporated milk, salt and pepper and had instant great tasting cream of vegetable soup.

This week I got some kale. Kale is a very sturdy green that looks harsh. I thought, maybe if I puree the kale with some butternut squash, add a little nutmeg and evaporated milk it won’t taste harsh. Guess what? I was right. Again, very good. Progresso now makes chicken stock in a carton (the least doctored of the packaged stocks) that you can substitute for some of the milk. Soup makes me feel that all is right with the world.

Alone is good.
Most people don’t like to be alone. The people who most crave short periods of aloneness are mothers with small children. Next are fathers with small children. Being alone in America implies that you have seriously messed up.

I am alone most of the time. Other voices, other thoughts, other points of view reverberate when I return to solitude. I spend some time reviewing what went on. The review parade goes like this: How they acted, how I acted. What they said, what I said. I evaluate according to my dumb fossilized ideas and it takes place in thought purgatory. Just like in the catholic religion, thought purgatory is a circular holding pattern. You are waiting, waiting, waiting to take off but you can’t because it’s so effortless to keep thinking the same thing over and over.

Nothing ever changes or moves out of thought purgatory until you are alone for enough time to become uncomfortable and start thinking fresh untainted thoughts.
Ah...fresh, untainted thoughts. When you have fresh untainted thoughts you examine how life works and come up with interesting theories.
I have a theory about sound. I think moaning is a healing sound and we make it involuntarily when something hurts. I think the sound starts a process in our subconscious to bring its arsenal to our aid. The arsenal of the subconscious is formidable. There are other sounds that we don’t make automatically that could help us solve problems. If you state a problem as simply as you can without judgment, it also starts a process and that process is not limited to yourself; it is broadcast into the universe and the wheels start turning to bring you what you need. Maybe this is what Jung meant by the universal unconscious.

I’m sure that Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who finds “women to be the biggest mystery” would agree with me. Hawking also said that in order to survive, humans will have to colonize Mars and the universe. Kale looks like it came from Mars.