Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Look Up

 In a single day I experience no less than one million minute visceral reactions. I am certain that the spectrum of my emotions knows taxonomic breadth. I know fifty nine tribes of gratitude and at least seventy two series of satisfaction. I could pinpoint at this very moment nineteen orders of appreciation for the meal I just enjoyed and seven forms of adoration for my cat. On some days I could regale you with infinite taxa of frustration, impatience, aversion, and indifference, but that would be a real bummer. Instead I'll defer to the innumerate ranks of love that proliferate from a life well lived. The rest is minutia.

These past few months, during this beautifully mild summer, that heartbeat of minutia has crescendoed to a magnum opus of "Ahhhhh...." night after night on my back deck. It starts with dinner, which I'll admit was hastily prepared more often than not in favor of enjoying every last second of sunset. My skin soaks in the last good hour of bright, hot sunlight with each delectable bite of dinner. Ever notice how different food tastes outdoors, when you can really breathe in to it? Earthy and round on the tastebuds, flavor that bleeds in to your sinuses. Since I was a little girl letting bites of tomato slide down my chin I've found it remarkable. How does nature do that?

I'm not the only who enjoys an evening snack. Izze, our cat, has taken a liking to evenings on the deck. It's our girl time (sometimes accompanied by real girl friends, sometimes happily crashed when Sean has a spare evening). Our deck is lined with plants, mostly herbs and a few vegetables that only come to fruition long enough to be absconded by critters. Izze and I are alright with that because she likes critter watchin' and I don't mind a trip to the grocery. While I'm allowing my mind to wander somewhere deep beyond the sun rays, my cat happily and relentlessly gnaws at the stalks of my plants. Perplexing as it may be, her favorites are fennel and chives, with which she flosses her fishy teeth with great satisfaction. Ironically, the catnip turned brown many weeks ago, and remains untouched by kitty paw nor jaw.

The ultra-dilated pupils of my happy deck companion are sharply diverted from snack to sky somewhere near the 8 o'clock hour, at which time dozens of starlings come charging over the rooftop in a circular, low lying fuss. 

 Izze's pupils protract a little with each shallow advance, my pulse regulated as their chatter finds its rhythm. It appears as though the bones in my Izze's neck have melted into spring loaded putty, whipping in small quick circles that match feathered aerial show overhead. Together we watch them with equal enchantment, my cat and me, as the birds fly low and tauntingly, goading one another in to chase and guiding one another in some systematic flight that only Mother Nature and a studious ornithologist can decipher. It is my dinner that satiates me after a long day and a rigorous workout, but the birds are the ones who playfully sate any lingering mental toil, reminding me of how even the most complicated matters are simple at their core.

And then, at a seemingly arbitrary point in their performance, the curtain is lowered and our winged actors scurry backstage, or as the proscenium view over the rail might have it, past the Ramsi's rooftop and off in to the sunset. The sunset. Our encore.

From our third floor perch we're at the top of the treeline, prime real estate for those grappling in the clutches of an addiction to sky porn (guilty). We have watched that great big cosmic ceiling change in mind blowing permutations of color, form, and luminosity.

There was one evening right before a storm when the clouds were heavy and thick and a foreboding yellow hue loomed all around them. Sean and I stood outside in the putrid glow of friction in the vernal atmosphere as that familiar shade of stormy yellow began to take to dull green, though the clouds were unmoving in position and color. As if someone in the Heavens were changing films in a light canister, that bewildering shade of green gave way to orange, then bright, royal purple, and finally solid grey. It never rained. It never stormed. Eerie as it may have been, it discoed that night, and man oh man did we boogie.

On a night that it did storm there was nothing but black cloaking the front of the house and over the rooftop, but looking out past the deck there was a perfect arc of white light accented in a gilded halo of light from what remained of the defeated sun. I took a panoramic photo of Sean standing in front of that tunnel of light, an epic representation of whatever lies on the other side of this business called living. We were choked with an immediate sense of our own mortality, paralyzed by how similar it was to descriptions you hear of that great white light that leads you home when your heart decides to stop.

And yet most nights it's just this cotton candy evolution of Easter pastels, ever changing technicolor. It only takes seconds for one breathtaking view, one that you think will remain unmatched in beauty, to be transformed by the most subtle cloud movement, by one exposed ray of sun, by a band of lavender that somehow magnifies and changes the tone of everything around it. It's all I can do to keep from snapping a hundred photos a night because it seems unfathomable that that particular moment in time could exist so exquisitely ever again. And yet, it happens night after night, offering a brand of solace or a breath of satisfaction to punctuate the day. It's all over in a matter of minutes, the whole celestial shebang. The minutia of the day, the stuff that clutters my life and fosters every kind of trivial self importance, it all just dissipates. I'm washed with overwhelming gratitude for my small speck of existence and the gift of being in a world that can simultaneously dwarf me and fill me fuller than any ocean.

Do you know what follows that degree of repose? Joy. In the dark night I run my hand down Izze's fennel plant and throw handfuls of dead stalks in the air hoping the bats, who have since come out to claim their hour in the darkening sky, will swoop down mistaking the scattering shards for a tasty knot of bugs. They know just how to tease me, how to draw yelps and giggles up from my gullet. It's a pleasing end to a couple of simple hours. I'm put right by this routine, and over the summer months it spoils my senses.

Tonight I carried my dinner to the deck and let the screen door slam behind Izze's paws at 7:52, eight minutes before we have come to expect the starlings to make chase. Tonight we were met with nothing but twilight. A still diorama. A fleeting azure glow met a thread of flame colored horizon that wove through the black shadow of tree line, and then the curtain closed. An eerie urban soundtrack of traffic and bellowing restaurant workers pierced through the dark; unfamiliar dissonance that I can only assume was previously put in harmony by the accessories of those long summer nights.

 And while I welcome this Fall Equinox with sweatered arms, blanket draped legs, hot tea, and all things crisp and cozy, I can't help but wince at coming to grips with losing my little nightly release. I have just a couple more weeks to study that fading flame colored sliver before it too will fall prey to the change of the seasons and recede to nothing but dark dark dark.

"A period or state of obscurity, ambiguity, or gradual decline," a definition of twilight. And yes, tonight's abrupt afterglow certainly felt like a state of ambiguity, certainly signals a gradual decline. But it also signifies a juncture, and that's important for me to remember if I'm to shake off the where-did-my-summer-go-blues. Soon the changing trees will take over where my sunsets left off and I'll have a new opportunity to lose myself in this magnanimous earth. How lucky we are to have such a benevolent host.

Of course, there's that gradual decline business; the early dark, icy, barren months that form a petri dish of Seasonal Affective Disorder in my soul. When Old Man Winter gives us the first nudge of his boot I'll just have to figure something else out. Maybe you'll look up from the alley one night and see a tiny shadowy figure on a lawn chair in her long underwear smiling in front of a fluorescent therapy lamp as snowflakes melt on her tongue. Maybe, just maybe.

A look back...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"We have the most beautiful day, just like we always do..."

"Nanny, fetch me my pet donkey, I've grown tired of these parrots!"

These are the words I chirped in an effortless turn-of-the-century bourgeoisie accent as my feet glided across the stones of the Biltmore terrace. Evoking my best Cornelia Vanderbilt came second nature; I felt unexpectedly full and light-hearted upon exiting our hour and half long tour of the Estate. I twirled closer to the edge of the Biltmore terrace, which is punctuated at it's furthest corner by a little veranda, through which the Blue Ridge mountains shown a luminous cobalt shadow in the foreground of an Easter egg sky, bisecting amber rolling hills which reflected the hue of a particularly dramatic dusk.

 The Vanderbilts were not typical tycoons of their age, they were deeply compassionate people who wanted nothing more than to share the love, joy, and fortune of their lives with the people whom they held most dear. At any given time 20-40 guests inhabited the Biltmore Estate, each made cozy in their proper wing; bachelor, diplomat, family, celebrity and so on. Each wing of the home (which is the largest residential dwelling in America) has its own parlour, tailored to the needs and tastes of its respective guests. The home includes, among its 8000 acres of Fredrick Law Olmstead designed countryside, a gymnasium and lower level swimming pool, as well as a a system of gardens, a greenhouse Conservatory boasting jaw dropping collections of orchids, succulents, cacti, and other flora, as well as a lagoon, winery, and direct access to the French Broad River.  The home was built and designed for family; a family which, by Vanderbilt definition, included the likes of hundreds of fellow movers and shakers.

Prior to exploring the enchanting walls of the home itself, we wandered and wondered over the Conservatory, which was a warm and welcome reprieve from the cold mountain wind that cut across the skeletons of outdoor garden mazes left barren during winter. Inside, verdure abounded. The names of these exotic plants were every bit as curious as their flora and greenery. The stories-high white brick walls, accented by floor-to-ceiling windows outlined in forest green paint and cross-hatched panes offered a brightness and cleanliness that created a botanic universe in which I felt like a garden gnome searching for my own leafy umbrella. This horticultural palace is hyperbolic, a living breathing organism in its own right. Each turn reveals begonias beckoning for attention under towering palm, bird of paradise sheltering a population of arid succulents, the languid arms of orchid plants in seasonal bloom, not drooping, but reaching. A sizable labyrinth of sheltered garden walkways eventually wound us back to the start, we were the vine navigating the host. And just as the heavy wooden doors lured us in from the cold through humid window views, sealing us in a warm system of flowery catacombs, it eventually gave a mighty exhale, and with that we found ourselves moving against the wind, an "eight minute walk" by all account of the yard signs, with livened step for our tour of the Biltmore Estate..

You can't begin to fathom the strikingly stoic, castle-like visage of this home. A massive front lawn with circular looking pool seems to sprawl acres before the estate itself. Beyond the lawn is a rambling chateau boasting subtle Gothic embellishments. Copper spires stained with limestone deposits accentuate the beginning and end of each wing, and between those spires the snarling faces of the most intricate gargoyles I've ever laid eyes on warn away evil spirits. Regal lion statues bookend the entrance and welcome visitors with the kind of imposition that calls for both respect and grace. The Golden Age of opulence will swallow you whole in this place, a transposition truly takes root at its gate.

I snapped pictures from every angle as Sean tugged at my coat and the February mountain air bit at my digits. We were shuffled in, two people among a hundred or more, in to an overwhelmingly large atrium. We were sandwiched between weary, irritated tourists whose spirits were extinguished by long lines and inclement conditions; those who spent $50 not to immerse themselves in the history of the place, but to ooooh and ahhh at the decadence, the economic privilege they've always (selfishly) aspired to attain but will probably never acquire. Nevertheless, in our typical fashion, we navigated this home in such a way that the narrative quality of its history drew us in, examining stories within the walls; the character, generosity, and nature of its inhabitants. Love built this place, not money.

After musing over chamber after ornate, accommodating chamber of the Estate, I suppose my spirit was overcome with that of the Vanderbilt family; I felt immense love for my family and friends, a sudden desire for closeness, and a certain pride for the family of friends and loved ones Sean and I have grown to enjoy as a couple. Truly, aside from our immediate kin, we entered this relationship relying solely on one another, and an intense mutual love, to guide us to new support systems and comaraderies. We nurtured friendships one by one as a couple, and later built bridges between those relationships to assemble the amazing system of friendship and support that we know today. In the walls of the Biltmore Estate I projected New Year's galas as revelrous as our Christmas parties, summer bathing and gaming events every bit as anticipated as our Derby party. Unlike any other historic home, unlike any owned by prominent wealthy people or humble, religious folk alike, I've never toured a place that felt so earnest and human. It was almost easy to dismiss 7 story tall ceilings in the master dining room in light of what that space meant, in light of its purpose. Gold leaf wallpaper could not outshine the overall vitality of the home. Every room moved me, every room, no matter how lavish, spoke to love, and seemed to reflect its own distinct ray of a purpose larger than extravagance.

After ascending the deepest chambers of the lowest level,  lingering through the belly of the beast and bathing in its charm, we emerged from the Estate the only people left. No more shuttles, no more crowds by the 100's. Just us. And I couldn't help but dance across that veranda, taunting Sean and feeling invigorated by the imprint of this sprawling oasis at the foot of an incandescent mountain range that has come to represent our second home.


Not to detract from the magic of the moment, but from our very first outing the universe has had a way of delivering beautiful days among dreary weather, once in a life time experiences in mundane surroundings, chance encounters on good faith, and myriad other moments that seemed to be dealt especially for us.

In the first year we dated Sean surprised me with a trip to Chicago to see Ida, a New York based band that rarely plays outside of Brooklyn, a band that had captured my heart and provided me with a beautifully hushed, harmonic, soundtrack for over a decade of my life. The idea of seeing the band was surreal enough, but as we sat as the very edge of the stage holding our front row spot (a position I rarely care to pursue), I think my mind and body detached. All I remember from that night is holding firm to Sean's hand, watching the bare feet of the violonist playing the shruti on the floor, and weeping my eyes out.The words and melodies passed though me, carrying with them the weight and depth of my most cherished adult memories up to that point. My mind was an emotional strainer, and the pulp was streaming down my face. I've never been so moved in my life, and all the while with the strong hand of my best friend resting at the nape of my neck, or the small of my back.

There was our first canoe trip, an unseasonably warm day on the Elkhorn during which we communed with hundreds of hawk and turtle friends under a bluebird sky, but also nearly sank our canoe. There may be a reason why you don't hear of more folks whitewater canoeing; namely because canoes are big, long, heavy vessels with no real center of gravity. Plainly, they're not designed to bobble and blast through deep, rocky, fast moving water. Of course, that kind of logic was lost on Sean and I, we're always in the market for something at least three notches higher than "walk in the park," Yep. We navigated our canoe through several successions of ripples and strainers, traversed a dam, and then... Damn! We were sunk. Stuck in some deep rapids, with our feet and ankles trying to safely navigate the obscured rock below, we managed (without panicking) as a team to summon enough adrenaline to reverse the vessel from hundreds of pounds of rushing water pressure. We also came ashore with both paddles, our belongings, extremities and digits intact.

We love road trips, and moreover, we love winging it on road trips. Coming home from the Outer Banks a few years ago, we decided to venture deep in to rural North Carolina countryside to meet the likes of a 90 year old man named Vollis Simpson. Vollis has spent the last 40+ years building his own world of whirligigs out of scrap metal on his deteriorating farm in the middle of nowhere. Now reduced to a giant workshop/shed with a front porch, and a fenced in area of rusted windmills of bygone whirly-year, Sean and I spent a few minutes trespassing with oogling eyes and an intrusive camera lens before Vollis himself came puttering up a hidden dirt road in his pick em' up truck munching on pork rinds and a banana. He invited us to explore his warehouse, told us intimate tales of life with his wife and kids, of times when he could build anything with an active imagination and agile hands, before time passed, as it does, at break neck speed and he found himself old(er) and alone. I fell in love with a mini-whirligig built from an heirloom wine chalice. Though positive I was completely out of cash, I asked his price, and found the exact change to the bill floating in my purse after a week-long vacation. Destiny. It sits on my desk to this day.

Upon graduating with our respective Bachelors' degrees in the same Spring semester (a serendipitous event given our long, separate journeys to the same end) we decided to reward one another with a three week trip across the country. In that time we traveled 9300 miles through 20 some states, visiting 18 National Parks and encountering hundreds of species of wildlife including mountain goats, wild burros, coyote, buffalo, wolves, black bear, California condor, bull moose, prairie dogs, seal, sea lions, pronghorns and big horned sheep to name only a few. We walked across salt flats and grasslands, drove through a tornado in the South Dakota, sank knee-deep in post-blizzard snow drifts, stood at the edge of prehistoric hot springs, were sprayed and soaked by some of the oldest and largest waterfalls in the world, wandered a fern covered canyon in the Redwoods, and hiked through prehistoric cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, we thought the one certainty in which we could trust on our journey was direction; between bags full of AAA provided state and regional maps, as well as access to Google maps and a GPS, we never banked on getting lost. It was on this trip that we truly learned the meaning of the adage "expect the unexpected," when our GPS sent us on a 3 mile rocky ride on a "highway" which later proved to be an ATV trail. It was 118 degrees according to the dashboard, and the only day of the trip that we felt too rushed to fill our 6 Nalgenes with water before embarking on the day's adventure. We turned off of a perfectly respectable freeway on to a one lane gravel road. Confused, we stopped and consulted every map resource to our disposal, only to determine that this must be the right road. One mile in gravel turned to boulders that required us to get out of the car to clear. A second map consultation sent us reluctantly onward, until 2 miles in we hit a pipeline and noticed ATV trail markings. A third map consultation, mild desperation, and a touch of desert delirium convinced us that the third and final mile would connect us to the correct highway... And led us to a mangled drive shaft and three days sleeping in an auto garage on a forgotten stretch of Route 66 in Needles, CA. Don't get me wrong, this was not a happy detour, but we accepted it as part of our journey, and to this day I look back fondly on those long, slap-happy afternoons on the couch watching terrible movies in the back room of Econo-Smog. Once we were on our way we had an entire we to let the good times roll, and did we ever.  Our last stop was Santa Fe, NM on a Thursday, our usual margarita night at El Mundo in Louisville. We had an incredibly memorable meal and a couple of truly top shelf margaritas before departing, not just from Santa Fe, but from our biggest adventure, for good. We wept and laughed and held hands for the first couple of hours of that long ride home. From beginning to end, it was the best experience of my life.

On a birthday trip for Sean I arranged for us to spend the weekend at a bed and breakfast at the mouth of the Shawnee Forest, home of Garden of the Gods, a Mid-Western wilderness comprised of limestone rock formations that are the colorfully carved, eroded remains of ancient sea beds. On an innocent hike in which we hoped, at best, to identify topographic features such as Teapot Rock and Monkey's Eyebrow, we identified a member of the natural world way more unexpected and enchanting than a rock with anthropomorphic features.
For context, I should back-track and let it be known that we are the proud owners of a tiny, silken-furred critter called a Sugar Glider. His name is Fella Man, and he's a nocturnal marsupial from Australia and parts of New Zealand. He has webbing that connects his front and hind legs, which makes him one aerodynamic furball. Though he can't glide far, he is able to "fly" short distances, much like the rare North American flying squirrel. But who's ever heard of seeing a flying squirrel in the woods anyway?
So, Sean and I are hiking, and we encounter a hollow, rotten tree trunk dangling precariously on the edge of a rock face. Being a typical (boy) man, Sean just had to rock the trunk, attempting to loosen it to a long deathly tumble. He knocked against it and gave it a couple of good shakes and out popped two plump (what looked like) sugar gliders! They peered down at us as I scrambled to get pictures before launching toward more steady branches across the ridgeline. We stood in awe of what we'd witnessed, and more importantly what we conjured, on a day hike in a faraway place from a random tree among thousands of trees.

Our mutual intuition is far more powerful than any plan. The universe is our gentle guide. Magic finds us.

Does that sound really new-agey and starry eyed? Yeah I know, I find it hard to believe myself. But when it comes to Sean and I, there's no such thing as chance.

Sean carried my perfect ring in his pocket for two days waiting for just the right moment to propose a life that has always been a given in my mind. As such, I didn't have the faintest idea that when we summited two mountains, or dined at a nationally acclaimed James Beard nominated restaurant, or fell asleep each night to a modest fire in a modest cabin that reflects in every way what I want for our future, that he was silently wondering if that was the moment to ask. But he waited, and though it was subconscious, he waited because he knew that he would know in the moment; reflexive, not reflective.
He carried a ring that bears my mother's engagement diamond, a diamond given with his mother's blessing, a center diamond that is all our own, and three tiny diamonds on either side to cradle all that history and love. Many girls grow up dreaming of their wedding day. I am not one of those girls. Many women dream of elaborate engagements and rings they've designed to the letter at the expense of a brow-beaten fiance. I am also not one of these women. I believe in love, and I have believed in the love I share with Sean, without expectation, for the last five years. But I have to admit, in the wake of my mother's passing, for the last 10 years, I dreamed of one day wearing my mother's diamond. I anticipated the man that would go to my father and ask, not only for my hand in marriage, but for that precious stone that he once slid on to the finger of the most wonderful woman I have ever known. I have believed all along that Sean would be that man, and my trust in that notion gave me unconditional comfort in our lives as a couple. Given my contentment,  I didn't have a clue as I was skipping across that veranda at the Biltmore that Sean about to fulfill my one and only girlish fairy tale dream.

I danced across those stones like a fool. My feet were light as air  and my body twirled effortlessly across a cutting winter wind. The snowflakes had subsided, but it was blustery, and I have a faint memory of Sean's giant smile walking slowly in the path of my girlish parade. We met at the edge of the terrace and I pulled him in for a kiss. Before recognizing my love for him, I remember pulling away and mentally acknowledging my love for the mountains, which were perfectly painted by the shades and shadows of early twilight. I drew myself against him with my hands on his forearms, probably tugging at his jacket sleeves, and I looked up and said, "This has been the most perfect day." That declaration came not necessarily out of the romantic nature of the moment, but from our legacy of adventures.
"You know what would make it even more perfect? *pause* If you would say you'd spend the rest of your life with me..."
The words passed through my ears but he was standing, holding my gloved hands, and so my immediate, internal response was, "Um, duh. That's why we're here celebrating 5 years together."  But then I saw tears welling in his eyes... Not watery eyes reacting to the wind, but tears. And he got down on one knee, and I promise you all I remember is being awestruck by this ring in a lighted box, shaking in his palm. I thought of my mother, and of her diamond, and of my uncle who has carried on the family business as a jeweler/gemologist. I looked at Sean, on one knee with eyebrows raised in anxious hope, and without really ever hearing him ask, "Will you marry me?" I said yes. I couldn't hear his words or my words... My consciousness was entirely focused on processing the significance of such a poignant moment. Once back on his feet I have a dizzy recollection of Sean's gentle gaze meeting my watery eyes as he explained, "One of those diamonds is your Mom's..." He went on to delineate the rest of the history within my ring, but my attention was suspended. The gravity and gratitude was too great for tears. My heart seized and remained arrested for a good two hours after Sean's proposal. I had no words, and still really don't, for the joy and surprise of that moment.

We're getting married. One day I'll be Laura Bailey. And though I look forward to and dream of that day in all kinds of cheesy cliche ways in which I never expected, I retain my faith in the universe, in those signs and magic moments that have brought us to this point. There's no rush when we have the comfort of knowing that the breath of opportunity and the arms of good fortune will embrace us when the time is right for our union to take place... And there's no doubt in my mind that it will be exactly the modest, happy little love-fest I imagine it to be. Here's what to expect... Love and comaraderie. Joy and jubilee. Dancing. Friends and family having the time of their lives. Sean and I smiling until our cheeks hurt, arm in arm with the ones we hold most dear. Faces that glow with the radiance of mountain twilight. A celebration not of us, but of the collective love and energy that makes us who we are and what we are. A celebration of Vanderbilt proportions.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vernal Observations

Every night of the Summer I find myself sitting on the deck under a phosphorescent sunset; nice and toasty from the lingering humidity, bidding my warm friend the sun adieu for the evening. Silly birds send their final squawks of the evening in to the trees before their nightly retreat, offering airspace to the clumsy, erratic, starlit flight of the bats. These are the times that I am both the most pensive and appreciative for the persisting excellence that is my life.

 Lately, the reflective quality of Facebook has revealed, night after night, daily experiences that open and magnify and replicate like a magician's multi-colored hankerchieves, ceaselessly being drawn from a magic hat. The magic in my life, these days, is bottomless. It's a funny feeling to be compelled to share with hundreds of faceless people (ironically through an instrument named Facebook) my delight in an evening, or a meal, or a shared experience. But it's there and it happens, the social outlet, the emotional adaptation of my generation. The other night I offered, "My daily routine: Go to work with awesome friends selling fun things to (mostly) happy and interesting people, come home and lay in the sun, read out loud to myself, go to the gym, relax in the sauna, come home and cook a delicious fresh meal, eat said meal on the deck, take a walk with my man, sleep 8 hours, repeat. There are not enough happy emoticons to express the pleasure I enjoy in life." It's nothing earth-shattering, and I'm certainly not changing the world, but these small daily stepping stones are important. To me.

So what's important, really? Simplicity. Being present. Looney as it may come across, I genuinely smile when a pigeon roosts in our chimney, I do thank the sauna for being such a warm friend after a long, hard, rewarding work out. I do. I just love things and people and places and specific cognizant moments exactly the way they are. Lately, I've been living a Groundhog Day of awesome. Allow me to share some highlights.
Silence is so important. Solitude, the kind that doesn't even co-habitate with the faintest puff of a lazy morning breeze. In silence a person is able to process everything and absolutely nothing in simulcast. What does your silence sound like? What does your silence smell like, or look like? My favorite moment of silence gives me goose pimples because the sun hasn't quite shown her face beyond the edge of the roof and the air is still damp from wee-hour dew. It smells like rain, even on a day that promises to reach dry, Hell-hath-no-fury temperatures. My silence is tempered with a distant, low vibration, the hum of morning rush hour traffic; it's the lullaby of adulthood. There's an extremely enthusiastic rooster in the neighbor's yard that has also cawed a corner in to my silence, and his corner is the one that most effortlessly tugs at the indices of my sleepy smile. He's just so excited for the day. Crow! Crow! Unbridled jubilation. He does the dirty work for me. Silence is dirty, too, as my naked toes curl and stretch over spilled soil from my potted plants. My silence smells like fresh black coffee and fresh mown grass, but tastes like nothing.

 But I'm not a creature that's cut out for silence. My mind turns somersaults of phraseology and my ears do linguistic back flips all day long; the simplest verbiage, the slightest hint at poetics and the most stone-faced prosaic utterance are all banked in my linguistically titillated mind. Lately, I've found it boundlessly rewarding to read out loud. In the summer I need a read that mirrors the season, something lyrical and fecund and romanticized and celebratory. At the moment I'm re-reading an old favorite, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It is poised to be the first full novel that I've ever read out loud to myself from cover to cover. Oh but it just can't be read any other way. I was a paragraph in to my silent reading when I had to start over, carefully articulating every syllable to reveal the masterfully nuanced character of her prose. Take this passage, and please, read it out loud, if only in a whisper: "The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff."
Snakelike. Slippery. Languid. It lingers and expands over your open lips. Doesn't that feel divine and cleansing on your tongue?
Try this: "We can't take the lightning, the scourge of high places and rare airs. But we can take the light the reflected light that shines up the valleys on creeks. Trees stir memories; live waters heal them. The creek is the mediator, benevolent, impartial, subsuming my shabbiest evils and dissolving them, transforming them in to live moles and shiners, and sycamore leaves."
My mouth bubbles over when I verbalize Dillard's prophecies of the natural world, sometimes so much so that I actually blubber over a syllable or two. It's that active on the tongue. If you can't identify with even a shred of one of these passages, I beg of you to go outside, or if that's not your thing, then to find your own healing creek in this artificial rat race.
It's one thing to claim that I undergo a strange series of mental revelations and re-calibrations, and on most days that may be so, but I have to remember that I am a corporeal being, too. I learned this past winter that if my body is not physically challenged, I become a lazy, snack-obsessed, moody little mass of melted muscle. This is a realization most recently born of age. Laura Read pre- 26 could eat, drink, and exert as much or as little as she wanted with little to no physical side effects. Oh, but Father Time and Mother Nature really collaborated on a doozie of a lesson this past wintertide as I emerged from my cocoon of Seasonal Affective Disorder wearing several (not so) luxurious pounds of cold weather baggage. "Get thee to the elliptical!" I cried, and for the past 4 months I've been more fit and even tempered than ever.
If there's one time that I'm willing to shatter the glass jar of my otherwise meditative, tree-hugging, Damn-the-man-and-his-airconditioned-comfort mentality, it's at the gym. There, I'm an animal. I resent the gym for stealing me from my outdoor perch and happy sun-tanned existence, I revere it for whipping my s'more lovin' butt in shape and for keeping those endorphins pumping happiness through my veins. I sweat and sweat and sweat but never blink. I dance in a hurried shuffle from one weight machine to the next, in as rhythmic and orderly a waltz as I can perform around the other (more leisurely) Y-goers. It's kind of nerdy, but often times I flex and squeeze my own muscles, particularly my biceps and quadriceps. In the locker room mirror I admit, I watch the way my shoulder blades glide across my skin, and how my shoulders heave and ripple. The fruits of my labor, work that I have done solely for myself and to myself. And to bring things full circle, the greatest reward for my efforts is warmth. Oh to slink in to that sauna, bow my head, take a really deep burning breath, and sweat it out all over again. I lean in to my muscles, I feel my pores expand and force my limbs to expand in unison. I thank heavens for the bodily response I draw from heat. Sucking, drinking, sighing, panting, smiling, heaving, and softening. My time at the gym is both an adrenaline high and a sensual time of repose.

When I can't appease my bag of bones with the embrace of balmy air, I tend to cave to whatever innate instinctual craving possesses it. In winter my body laps at carbs and red meats, and I usually oblige. Save investing in a physiology course, I'll never understand the correlation between my warm month and cold month comforts. However, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that the common denominator is food. When the 50's tip in to 60's I abandon heavy starches and proteins. Everything must be fresh fresh fresh. Due in large part to this newly adopted fitness routine, I'm increasingly noticing my own deepening appreciation for food. I'm no Julia, but I absolutely love to cook, and I cook simply. On any given day our kitchen is brimming with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and herbs. I've never been good with fractions, ratios, or division, but I can calculate permutations of flavor by the millions per minute. I can't always take credit for my concoctions, as Pinterest often lends a heavy hand in my dinner decision, but almost never without some adjustment or substitute. I love the layers of scent that manifest from my chopping knife; green onion, basil, garlic, ginger. Those scents waft through the house and stain my fingertips in the same way that they linger on the palate. The olfactory experience paired with good music and sun beams through the skylights bisecting the kitchen are enough to compel me to dance while I wash, chop, and roast. It is my firm belief that everyone should dance in the kitchen. You're releasing all the goodness and abundance of your food stuffs, might as well release your own righteousness while you're at it!
My earliest memory of taking pleasure in food revolves around summertime and the outdoors. Mom and I would sit on the screened-in back porch my Daddy built playing word games in rocking chairs. Our neighbor often made huge plates of BLTs, which she was always well-obliged to share over the chain-link fence that separated our backyards. I remember biting in to that crisp, glistening bacon and the cool watery lettuce, with tomato oozing down my chin and buttered bread crumbs speckling my upper lip, and thinking I'd never tasted anything so fine or fresh in all my life. Ripeness, smoky flesh, flooded my child palate in a way that surely made my pupils dilate a little. As an adult, that connection between one's sense of taste and the air breathed between bites is tantamount to my nightly dining. I'm mindful to season my meals through the filter of the outdoors when at all possible. Food just tastes better, every subtle note and earthy tone unravels in each bite, reminding me that what I'm ingesting is whole and good, as is the setting in which I feast.
Outdoor dining brings me closer to another great vernal joy, outdoor growing. I'm no gardener, no amateur farmer, and I certainly don't grow enough to sustain Sean and I for even half a season. Ours is not quite the bucolic existence of my idealized city girl dreams. Still I grow, and I enjoy the process. My potted garden on this third floor deck has grown from 8 pots to 32 in the last 3 years. Each new Spring my green thumb comes equipped manifold with brand new dreams of tea gardens and vegetables, multiple varieties of herbs like basil, lavender, and garlic chives, and as many types of peppers as I can get my mitts on. As a little girl Mom and I took one annual trip to the greenhouse, purchasing mostly ornamental flowers, but always tomatoes and mint. She let me dig the holes with a dull-edged spade that once belonged to Grandaddy, and carefully cupped her hands over my hands which cupped the root ball of our precious new verdure. I loved rubbing my fingers on the leaves of those plants and inhaling. It was every bit the scent of summer as a squished lightening bug or a glass of sweet tea. I dreamed of someday growing my own tomatoes to slice and enjoy in my own outdoor space, and well, the dream has mostly come true.
I share my plants with the neighborhood critters. Squirrels and possums in particular love our potted food, and I love them. Do I get frustrated when a nearly-ripe tomato is plucked from the vine and boldly decimated on the deck stairs? Yes. Does it bum me out when I find half eaten green peppers and pole beans strewn about the rail? Mmm hmmm. But, at least for now, crazy as it sounds, it's part of the fun. I get heapfuls of basil, rosemary, chives, fennel, mint, and lavender, many delicious peppers, and the occasional orphaned tomato all to myself, even after the animals abscond with their share of the bounty. This year I'm hoping that Easter Egg radishes, zucchini, lemon cucumber, squash, pole beans, and arugula evade the clutches of my furry ones and find their way to my dinner table. In the mean time, I emerge with sleepy eyes each morning to dutifully water my leafy darlings. They're well-admired and oft the recipients of praise and admiration. In fact, when I pull my lawn chair close to my basil plant to catch the farthest rays of evening sun, I deepen my breath to steep in the spice. "You smell so good!" I sometimes exclaim out loud. I'm surrounded by my plants. Even when my gaze wanders down toward the landing, my tea garden and miscellany veggies are reaching up toward me all showy in green abundance. Whether they feed me or a hungry critter is inconsequential.

As an only child, this is the lone instance of sharing on which I have never fought to retain what was rightfully mine. That notion simply doesn't exist in the natural world. Despite that self-important only child mentality that occasionally creeps in to my adult psyche, I'm very quick to share when in good company. And company is, perhaps, the final square on the bingo board of fulfillment. Company is the free space, the one that completes any combination of winning lines. I recently read an article in Food & Wine about a couple who owns a vineyard in California. They gathered a group of friends to help them build a clay, wood-burning pizza oven on the edge of the vineyard's garden. For weeks the couples labored over heavy slabs of clay and brick, at one time having to rebuild the entire upper dome of the oven after a catastrophic cave-in. But what they ended up with was a beautiful rustic vessel that fired fresh, collaboratively invented pizzas week after week, all Summer long. Their weekly gathering was magnified not only by good wine and free spirited banter, but by the tangible recompense of their crafty resolve. I should not have read that article. I am already daily on the brink of undergoing a major upheaval, rejecting the bulk of my belongings in favor of inviting new comforts in to my life. Let me tell you, the prospect of a weekly gathering over food and libation ails me; I would gladly sell off trinket after tired trinket in favor of slabs of clay to commune over. As it is, I enjoy an already fortunate degree of time among friends, and I am more than happy with that. But part of life is dreaming, and that is the dream ahead.

 The best time to talk about dreams and aspirations and fun things that I've seen or read, is, of course, with my wonderful bearded partner. Sean and I work similar hours and have different post-work routines, so our catching up time, especially this time of the year, is twilight. Walking hand in hand, under a darkening, lucent canopy of rustling tree tops and emerging stars, Sean and I spend as many evenings as we can taking a little time before bed to reconnect, and to share. It is astonishingly easy to feel connected to a person with the immediacy of a cute text message or an intriguing Facebook post, but conditioning one another to speak freely, seeking advice with earnest trust, and taking time to only listen, or to only laugh, if priceless. It's a time to invent cocamamy schemes, lofty future lives, and ways of melding the practical with the desirable. One foot in front of the other, one laugh after the next, one pregnant pause punctuating one perfect moment. I would walk with that man forever, and I just might. We certainly have the practice.

It's hard not to self-aggrandize these days. The sentiments and observations set forth in these paragraphs are as intrinsic and intricate to my cognition as waves of light being processed by the complicated system of sight that performs it's own biological locomotion. The optic nerve sorts, defines, and reports what the eye sees almost instantaneously. I don't feel it or will it. But the writing process has one up on the optic nerve. Writing requires reflection, the lending of hundreds of intangible words and thoughts from a cerebral library. I can't help but draw from this library infinite times a day, almost with every blink, inventing ways of articulating my fortune to match the messages of splendor being sorted by my brain. It's a splendor that shoots straight to the soul. Happy Summer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


When I was a little girl the occasion always meant I got to wear a pretty dress, masquerade as a very small adult, and feast on finger sandwiches. There was the ubiquitous floral wall paper, huge prints of wisteria or lilly of the valley, always offset by some shade of plum or kelly green carpeting. The flower-printed walls often matched the arrangements, which were always finished in beautiful yellow or royal purple bows that I imagined in my hair. The warm scent of the deli tray competed with the distinctly unfloral scent of the florist's preservative spray; the smell was musty and denoted every thing my child's mind could classify as old. Maybe right fully so, in all of the visitations I was toted along to in my youth, we never once attended the funeral of anyone that didn't bear deep wrinkles on their folded hands and peaceful faces.

I grew up with death. I touched the cold hands of the deceased and I didn't flinch to think they might touch back. Somehow in my cherubic mind I understood that the people we visited were, well, dead. Each funeral was different; some families wept, others rejoiced, but all were gathered in celebration and memory of a person who was cherished. It was that observation that put me right with the idea of dying at a very young age. I rather liked the idea that when I passed I would get a very ornate box with satin pillows and loads of flowers to see me out of this world, and they'd better not forget the finger sandwiches!

I don't know if it was those early experiences with death, the people whom I never personally met but was happy to see off to the next life, that provided me a safe distance with which to process mortality, but I'm so thankful for them. Since girlhood death has fascinated and confounded me, really touched me, time and time again. Whether it's contemplating the act of dying, a light-hearted conversation with friends that somehow turns to the serious business of the afterlife, or the few dearly departed that were a direct personal loss, there is part of me that embraces the poignancy of a final goodbye.

A couple of nights ago the little old Baptist lady who woke up at 4am most mornings to toil over bourbon balls and pralines for the candy shop passed away. She never took a sip of the bourbon she so generously poured in each confection, and as I learned from her daughter at the visitation tonight, she took extra care to wrap each empty bottle in the paper bag it came in, diligently concealing it in the bottom of her trash can. She was a tiny woman with permed hair that was maintained once a week for Lord knows how many years. She always called me Laurie, but I liked that. Tonight I passed through the familiar floral hallway, traipsing over mint green carpet in to a room that was simply labeled "Eva." She laid expressionless beneath the satin covered interior of the casket lid, which was embroidered with praying hands. Though her taut face and deflated little body didn't quite bear the resemblance of the smiling woman I remembered in the photograph next to her resting place, Eva was there. Her daughter rose to meet us with grateful hugs and Eva was all around us. She was there in the look of peace in her daughter's eyes and in the smiles and banter that filled that small room.

Funerals always make me think back to a one-act play written by members of my high school's theatre company. The play is about a student who is a bit of an outsider at school, quiet, feels misunderstood and knows few friends. He dies at the climax of the play and spends the falling action watching his own funeral, commenting on the absurdity of the teachers' grief, roused to anger over classmates that once teased him, who now hovered over his lifeless body weeping and consoling one another. "You didn't know me! You didn't even talk to me!" he shouts. "Why do you care now?" The play, hauntingly, has no resolution. In the self-importance of my teenage years I remember thinking, "Yeah! They were so cruel to him! They don't have a right to this grief! They don't have a right to use this person they don't even know as some throw-away emotional vehicle!" But now, I kind of get it. People touch each other in ways they don't realize, sometimes in ways those around them don't realize. Grief can be about anything, not just saying goodbye, and conversely, saying goodbye does not always give rise to sorrow. To me, that is the essence, and the importance of this ritual we call "visitation" and "funeral." It's selfish, maybe, but it's a process of finding finality, of seeing to believe. It's the experience of knowing that a person is gone.

Tonight, tears did not well in my eyes for the loss of Eva. I looked at her soul's vessel in that box, and I looked at her portrait, and I sent her to that next plane of existence, whatever it may be. I know she is gone, and so I silently thanked her for introducing me to just how creamy and perfect a praline can taste, and I said goodbye.

I know it creeps some people out, the thought of congregating to look at someone and share tearful hugs with people you don't know, but it's a custom that I truly love. And you know the irony in that? The single most instrumental person in cultivating that value in me chose to leave this world as if she'd never existed at all. Cremated with no wake, no funeral, not so much as a living room eulogy, she would have gone without an obituary, too, had it not been a service of the funeral home who came to transport the temple of my Mother. To this day I kind of hate the two men in suits who carried her out, but I couldn't tell you why. "Be gentle!" I wanted to say, but I knew it didn't matter. Cremated. Cremated. The word hardly made sense.

It's the one reality of death that I'll probably never fully grasp or understand. The same little girl who got in a tizzy over finger sandwiches used to beg to go to Cave Hill Cemetery on the weekends to feed the ducks, frolic among the headstones, and take crayon rubbings of those that were beautifully embossed or engraved. We took bouquets to my grandfather's site and I would watch the act of the visit. I would watch other families arrange their bright floral offerings and sit with their loved ones as well. What a wonderful thing it is to be buried! We can still chat, we can laugh and remember and be together again! There's a place for this, how wonderful. I remember thinking that, so many times over and still to this day. How lovely to be remembered, to enjoy some connection that transcends the tangible world.

I can sit with Mom, she's in a little oriental snuff bottle that came from my grandparents' collection and was given to me as a child because I admired it so. But to be honest, I'd rather just sit with her memory or a photo. That snuff bottle and those broad-shouldered men in suits loosely fit in the same category of my strong dislike. I don't know why, but nearly every time I think of my mother I'm hit with pangs of yearning to have a place to meet with her that is permanent, the resting place and commemoration she deserves, whether her humble soul wanted it that way or not.

And then, it's nice, too. All thoughts of her postmortem wishes aside, sometimes it's like she's not gone at all. It's almost just as easy to imagine her roaming the earth somewhere on an extended vacation, due home any time now but at no particular time at all. I'll probably never absent-mindedly wonder how Eva is doing, the closure is there, but I often impulsively think, "Oh! I have to call Mom!" And maybe that was by design, maybe it wasn't that she wanted people to avoid making a fuss but that for once in her life she was afraid of the finality. If a person disappears, are they ever really gone? I like to think that choosing to break the mold of passing that she so profoundly poured my little heart in to was her way of saying, "I'm always here."

And that is why we have never said goodbye.

(Post-Script: Thank you, Eva, not only for the pralines, but for bringing me to a point of peace that in 10 years I had yet to attain)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Better Late Than Never

By the dawn of each new January I'm usually eager to shed the antlers of the last 12 months in favor of sprouting a more learned and mature set of prongs. It begins with New Year's Eve night, an occasion in which I participate with reckless abandon. When it comes to glitter and dancing and the opportunity to mark the affair with a red hot kiss, I'm all in. In the days and weeks leading up to NYE I'm overwrought with inspiration for the possibilities of the months to come; every aspect of my day to day from news bites to new recipes seems to be riddled with some revelatory quality. Riding high on a dazzling wave of ambition, hope, and childlike enthusiasm, penning resolutions and setting out to achieve them, traditionally, is a breeze. (Here comes the "but....").

The year Twenty Twelve has, until recent hours, been woefully lacking in specific purpose. Sure, I've been tossing around resolutions since December... Like they're candy spilling from a piƱata; the vessel is abused and the contents are so scattered that I grasp at them in a constant frenzy. Moreover, I've wasted countless hours trying to outline said resolutions in terms of some grand elucidation. Everything from the news of the death of a stranger in Austin, TX to photographs of the Chinese New Year have been feeble fodder for contextualizing what I hope to accomplish in this next solar cycle. Know what each of these fleetingly gripping tid bits has in common? None was moving enough to mobilize me to concrete acts of 2012 volition.

Before taking this to its turning point (can you feel the perspective shifting?) I have one more confession to make... I love wine. What was once an innocent vehicle of post-work relaxation has metamorphosed in to a serious dulling agent. No, I'm not sitting on my couch punch-drunk and sloppy, but I am far more prone to just sitting on the couch. That's it. Happily lulled, curled up under a blanket cuddling the laptop, I've grown accustomed to spending my evenings refreshing Facebook and scouring the net for beautiful things to dream about as the moon illuminates my tired silhouette through the back door and I develop my Pinterest catalog. How easy it is to believe that good living is pinning photos to a virtual bulletin board of hopes and dreams when it's so darn comfy to do so! Shame on me for giving in to such sloth.

It's no secret to anyone who has taken a few mindless moments to read my blog entries, I am an avid proponent of relaxation, of time to pause, of leading a well-paced life. However, I'm afraid that somewhere along this path to eternal peace I've managed to lull myself a little too deeply. Oh, it's quite lovely and important to grant myself the gift of doing nothing, but only after engaging in a host of fulfilling somethings. Simple things, like time to exercise or do yoga, like waking up early enough to enjoy breakfast (and a healthy metabolism) at home, like writing and crafting and reading, like even having the energy to do those things, all of these are important to the psyche, and they're the stuff of earning the right to relax.

I'm not sure I would have been able to understand my New Year's malaise in these terms had it not been for a dear old friend and the recent launch of her first blog Breakfast in the Bay Window And I should have known all along that it's the minute details of being human that I find most reanimating, that reflect the most potential, but this year I struggled to discover it until she went public with eloquently simple accounts of her days in Brooklyn, in particular, the beautiful breakfasts that begin her day. Simple pleasures. I took one look at her spoon collection (a grapefruit spoon, a table spoon, a teaspoon, a spatula...) and immediately understood that in the lollygagging of recent months I've forgotten to acknowledge those otherwise inconsequential elements of the daily grind. In the exact instance of this epiphany I experienced the New Year. The adrenaline of the flood. The desire to do rather than to be, no matter how modest the doing may be.

The older I get the more I accept that malleability is the essence of life, so let's just call this a cursory list of actions planned in carving the marble of Little Laura 2012... (Only a month late, right?)

1. Write write write! This will be at the top of my list from now until the day my last lucid brain cell surrenders to senility. Even then, I hope I have the motor skills and vocabulary to compose completely out of my brain, whether it's coherent thoughts or complete lunacy. Some people look to pyschedelics to unravel the meta-mysteries that are all folded up and buried within their core, others rely on therapy to make sense of limitations, attributes, and struggles that are beyond their own resolution, and I am not one to judge either of these methods of self-realization. I think every mind is a labyrinth, and we either learn how to walk the path or we spin 'round senseless in a constant back peddle. What I have known as early as the first time my tiny hand wrapped around a pencil and formed a complete written sentence is that the more I express myself through language, the more introspectively productive I become. It doesn't have to be shared, it doesn't have to be brilliant. It just has to be written in to existence.

2. Purge and Reinvent! I cherish every last shred of evidence that I have roamed the Earth for 28 years. I treat my lifetime like a museum, building exhibits full of little artifacts as phases fade and are reinvented. Does that mean it's important or constructive to love a box if letters that sit on a top shelf in my closet, overflowing with names and stories I can barely recall? Does that mean I really need the stickers and patches I amassed 15 years ago roaming Bardstown Road as a baby punk-hopeful? It's ok to pick and choose what constitutes a tangible time capsule and what can be relegated to fuzzy vacuous memory. Sometimes making a little extra room is all it takes to invite new adventures in to your life.

3. Do! My whole family, on both sides, works with their hands. My mother's parents were gemologists and jewelers, a profession and passion later inherited by my uncle; my Mother and I took weekly trips to the hobby shops in search of new crafts and activities; my father supported a family, purchased a comfortable home, and financed two cars and endless luxuries on the blue collar salary of a lineman for Bellsouth, building hundreds of networks of phone service around the city for 37 year before retiring. It is literally in my DNA to occupy these tiny ten digits. Delectable dishes, obsessive repurposing, handmade furnishings and a never-ending queue of weekly projects are just the medicine for a complacent routine.

4. Achieve! I believe a recently younger version of myself once asserted, "Put plainly, I don't aspire." Not to be taken out of context, I was referring to aspirations born of riches and power. Still, what was I thinking?! What a ridiculously hopeless thing to say, whether articulated with tongue in cheek or not. I aspire. I want to do something extraordinary this year. I don't mean saving lives, running for office, or accumulating unplanned wealth, I just want to make meaningful strides toward the next phase in my life. I want to bid adieu to 2012 feeling a better sense of direction and establishment.

5. Save! In a continuum of importance, money would be on the very lowest end of my priorities. Still, it's a continuum, and with every low there's a high point. I'm dying to travel.. Like, yearning. A couple of years ago Sean and I took an epic 3 week road trip that expanded my mind, stretched my limitations, and broadened my priorities and aspirations like a sling shot; I became over-extended and energized, and when let go my mind and spirit soared to indiscernible destinations. We're always embarking on little quests and close-to-home exploits, but I want to see the world with my partner in crime. This year I want to find the discipline to save money, looking toward the future and all the misadventures it may hold. (Oh, and a new-used car would be a bonus).

6. Be Well! This isn't about putting batteries in the scale or counting calories. It's about finding natural energy and illuminating clarity. Remember that aforementioned wine vice? It must be tamed in favor of more active hobbies. This will come naturally when Spring is sprung and being indoors gives me figurative hives, but in the mean time, I have to get my butt in to gear! Downtown Y, I'm going to milk you for that $--.00/month I've superfluously paid up until now! Fruits and veggies take warning, I'm climbin' in your windows, snatchin' yo nutrients up! This isn't entirely mind over matter... My body is craving meditation, stretching, muscle mass, and a smorgasbord of healthy feasting.

7. Grow! The only real resolution I have this year is to constantly tug at the indices of my mind, body, and heart, to expand and grow in any and every way the universe offers up, to live every day knowing that my daily activities are contributing to realizing the best version of myself. At the core, isn't that what resolutions are all about anyway? Whether they're superficial (I'll go to the gym, I'll drink less), spiritual (I'll spend more time in meditation), or altruistic (I'll listen more to my friends, I'll be more sensitive to the needs of others), all resolutions are made in the spirit of attaining goodness.

This year, at least in the coming months, is devoted to rediscovering the small stuff, to taking an active role in pampering myself every day with simple gestures that require special care, while recognizing the occasional value of granting a mindlessly lethargic reprieve. Oh, and all that adult stuff like saving money and buying curtains, too.