Monday, September 29, 2014

The Green Bean Truck

We drove down two-lane back roads into Delaware early Saturday morning. Corn was turning yellow in endless fields on either side of the road, and there was a stillness to our travel unbroken by wind or birds or other cars.

Our first view of the Chesapeake Bay in a long time. Flat calm and structural steel on a bridge that is the purest memory of my childhood.


Two hours later, we pulled into our driveway...


...and greeted the newest edition to the tiny house family.


(he was dispatched, along with several of his kinfolk, many of whom had decided that a tiny house was just the right size, although other than each other the pickings were slim.)

There was work to be done, but not for the dog. He got comfy on the porch and watched the world go by. The world, in this case, consisted of a car, some birds, and innumerable bugs. There was a lot of sleeping.


Later, this. A doughnut and a dog and a beach chair. A slash of light from the setting sun.


And later still, coming home from a walk. Blurry, yes, but exactly what we saw through the trees.


In the morning, sleepy babies in the loft...


...a walk to the beach...


...and a critter, trying desperately to make it to the other side of the road.


(Most of his wooly bear friends didn't make it to the other side, so it was hard to use them to predict the winter. We also found a very dead but wholly intact frog, stretched to his full length, a large pile of glass, and more mosquitoes. No snakes, thus far.)

We followed the green bean truck most of the way home.

TinyHouse Beans

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Donate To Good Causes Day


So today is Donate to Good Causes Day.

I TOTALLY just made that up.

But for me, that's today.

I don't have a ton of cash lying around, and, in fact, now more than ever we need to save our pennies. But I have found that for me, whenever I am feeling low or broke or especially trod upon, giving until it almost hurts - time, money, or love - is the way out of those feelings.

Even if I am not feeling any of those things at a particular time, here's a secret: giving feels good. And I like to feel good.

So here's today's recipients:

John Muir Goes to IslandWood: My wonderful friend Julie Trout teaches art at this school, and every year their 4th and 5th grade goes to IslandWood for three days of experiential education. This school is low-income, and many students cannot afford to go, the same students who desperately need to go and see life outside of the small bubble of poverty they are in. I believe strongly in experiential education and equal opportunity, so some dollars went to this on Donate To Good Causes Day.

Nerdy Baby: The Human Infant Project Kickstarter: Another friend, Tiffany Ard, has managed to bring together art and science to create  possibly the best baby products ever. This Kickstarter is working to fund a larger printing of her baby book, The Human Infant Project, a book that I would buy tons of if I had an infant or knew anyone who had an infant.  Dollars went to this, too

So here's the kicker: crowdfunding only works if a crowd gets involved. Many people still believe that it is one or two folks giving tons of cash, but it's not. It's tons of folks giving little cash. You don't need to give a lot, and it doesn't take a lot of time to do. If these two projects aren't up your alley, then find one that is and give them five bucks.

Spread some love today...


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writing A Book, Or How To Make Yourself Do Stuff


I love writing, and I think I am pretty good at it. I am efficient and know how to use words, and I can write in a variety of styles. This makes me an awesome mercenary writer because I never miss a deadline and I love a happy client.

So what is the deal with my own stuff?

It is incredibly hard to make myself sit down to write this next book, and it's not because I don't have any ideas or material. The whole book is outlined, and I am into the first part of it already. It is a compelling idea whose time has come, and I think it will be popular.

That is, if I can get past the difficulty I am having sitting down to write. It's not like I am cramming writing time in my hectic schedule (although I did just become a docent for the American Visionary Art Museum and am starting a work-study program at Baltimore Yoga Village Friday). It is pure-dee laziness.

It's loving the idea of having written the second book without having to write it. Jeez.

Apparently, along with fart jokes and rope licorice that you tie into knots over and over again before you pop it into your mouth, I will never outgrow my wicked streak of I-don't-wanna.


*I am doing it anyway because I am a grown-up, but it's slow going, and being a grown-up is overrated IMVHO because even though you can drive and eat Pop-tarts for dinner if you want you have to pay bills, worry about eating vegetables and getting enough calcium, and think all the time about people other than yourself. But I digress.

**Oh, and also for the record, this blog was written as an active avoidance tactic in which I write a blog to convince myself that yes, I am writing my own stuff, even if it's not the book. So here's a paragraph of the book. All rights reserved. So don't steal.

"Rome wasn't built in a day, and it certainly wasn't built without tools. You could use any old tool at hand for most jobs, and some folks create beautiful things with nary a power tool in sight. Both approaches work, but in reality, the proper tool for the job makes everything go much more easily. The work is more efficient and generally easier to accomplish, and when you are learning all the other skills related to building a house or taking on another large project, if you can make it easier on yourself, more’s the better."


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You Can Take The Man Out Of Prison...


On occasion and against my better judgement, I will get sucked into a television show or series. Usually they deal with cooking or apocalyptic survival, and this time is no different. I have found Utopia, a show that put 15 people on five acres and ordered them to build a new society and live there for a year. They are calling it a "social experiment," which seems to be the way to gain viewership these days, at least if they are trying to gain my viewership because I also got sucked into Love at First Sight, the one where two people are "matched by experts" and get married on the day they first clap eyes on each other (the "experts" did pretty well. Two of the three couples stayed married at the end of the experiment, but the one that did not went up in a fireball of mutual disgust and dislike bordering on hatred. But I digress).

Back to Utopia.

There's a dude on the show named Dave (well, not anymore, but that's neither here nor there.). He is a 32-year-old ex-con who was homeless prior to the show, and he began to throw tantrums nearly from the moment he arrived at the Utopia compound (eventually, he and a toothless dude from Kentucky founded the Utopian State of Freedom, a splinter group whose rules apparently include no rules except eat your weight in Oreos, chips, and ramen, and then sit around all day while everyone else gets the electricity and plumbing in order, you know, like adolescent boys. But again, I digress.).

So in the midst of all of his ramblings, Dave has brief periods of clarity where he says some very profound things (which makes me think he's a plant, but that's neither here nor there). He was talking about prison, this time in the context of an argument about food. Make no mistake - Dave may be billed as an "ex-con," but as of the limited slice of his life I witnessed (edited for content to keep the most titillating bits), there is no "ex" about this con. He has fully embraced the prison mentality and is trying to apply it to life outside, with predictable results (see comment above about Dave no longer being allowed in Utopia). In this conversation about food, Dave said that prison food (rice, beans, noodles) is the way to go. He said that he prefers prison because the rules are very clear.

And then goes on to insist the rules don't apply to him. Perhaps why he landed in prison to begin with? But I digress.

I was thinking about the prison rules we set for ourselves, the unbreakable, immovable walls we erect to structure our lives. These become a type of prison, functioning in the same way that prevented Dave from leaving prison even after he left prison. Almost like you can take the man out of prison, but you cannot take the prison out of a man.

I was thinking about how this becomes true as we get older, and wondering why we allow that to happen. When we are little, our parents insist we try new things (food, surroundings, sports, etc), even if we don't finish it we have to try. As adults, we stop trying things for the sake of trying them. With few exceptions, we find what we like, and THAT'S WHAT WE LIKE. We set these rules (This is how I am, this is what I do, this is what I am like...) and there is no deviation. And after awhile we begin to believe that all things should be this way, our way, and that's how crotchety old people are made (Get off my lawn, you kids!).

This is horribly limiting, living in prisons of our own creation. It is also horribly difficult, leaving the prison yard.

I think you just have to be determined to leave. I think you just have to scale the wall, let the concertina slash open your palms and arms if it must, and leap over to the other side. Even if it's only for a conjugal visit with the world outside the wall, every now and then it's important to be uncomfortable and challenged and new.

Which is hard if you are tired and just want things to be easy every now and again. But if you are tired from the way things are, maybe it's time to leap the fence. Maybe you are tired of the rules you set for yourself and an adventure would be just the thing.




Monday, September 22, 2014

I Get Around

With the exception of the big yellow school bus that picked me up at the bottom of the hill every morning and one brief east-west bus ride in New York, I had not ridden a bus in my life until I moved into Seattle, sold my ailing Accord and became a full-time, car-free bus rider for three years. A move south of the city and a pregnancy put me back in a car, and I haven't ridden a city bus since except for once with Sicily when she was five.

Until Saturday.

We planned a two-festival day, taking the car to the first one in Hampden. When we returned home for a break before heading to the next festival in Canton, we decided to park the car and Uber down to the waterfront, where parking would be scarce, hotly contested, and a serious PITA. This was our first time Uber-ing, and it was worth the $13.91 fare (which is about ten bucks cheaper than a cab). We figured we would Uber home and everything would be awesome.

Until we decided to Uber on a Saturday night at peak time when fares go up times three. So our affordable ride down turned into a $36 quote for a ride home.

Enter the city bus.

In nearly no time, and with minimal fuss, Yogi and I were installed in the comfortable back seats of a city bus, a one-bus, 30-minute ride home, pockets just $3.20 lighter (total). We got to watch the Baltimore go by and let the city worry about their shocks and struts. We found a mobile site that listed all routes and times and also found a thing that texts you when the next bus is coming to your location.



Now we are bus riders. Maybe not everywhere, but certainly to downtown. Maybe not all the time, but definitely when we can slow down and don't have to be any particular place.

It is pretty liberating to be able to navigate the city by bus. It is hard to explain, but somehow I feel more confident every time I do something simple like this.

I am 43 years old, and I rode the bus, and it makes me feel good.

Some will read that and think about the sheltered life I have lead, and they are to some extent absolutely correct. It's like I have been in hiding for awhile. Within the confines of everyday life I have become comfortable and that has made me unadventurous.

When Sicily was little she desperately wanted to ride the bus. So I planned an excursion to the International Farmer's Market in Dekalb county. This is about 25 miles as the crow flies, but in a car it's about an hour and 15 minutes, and by bus GOOD LORD it's a forever kind of time period that is based on late arrivals and full buses and transferring then walking and who knows what else.

We rode the bus for a couple hours, walked around the farmer's market for 15 minutes, then got back on the bus to go home. Sicily loved every minute of it.

That's kind of how I felt when we rode the bus home. I get around now, and I don't need a car. And that's liberating.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Making Good Choices

So we bought a house. And the house is pretty much nothing like we had been looking for or planned on. Which is funny but appropriate because this move to Baltimore has been nothing like we planned.

The house is a bow-front row home on 35th Street in Hampden. It was built in 1900 and has not been updated since someone had the genius idea to cover the stairs and floors upstairs with vinyl, the kind that comes in a big roll and gets tacked down with metal strips. On paper, it is a zero bedroom, zero bath house because it has nothing that is functioning (vacant since 2011), but there exists the shadow of two and a half baths, plus three bedrooms. A basement that is dark and dry but will soon be finished and light and have workshop tools, washer/dryer, and huge television with comfortable couch. A small deck off the back with a little yard that looks into an alley across from a park. A cool vestibule when you enter, a place to shake the mud off your shoes and collect your thoughts before you enter the house.


(awesome vinyl floor coverings on the stairs that even a  flat-packed

Ikea shelf wouldn't fit through.)

It's perfect.

Sicily and I both felt it when we walked in. Like a little fluttering of what it could be. This way we get to take all of the things we loved about the houses we saw and incorporate them into exactly what we want.


(looking towards the entrance from the kitchen at walls that will be destroyed)

This, of course, raises separate issues, like finding an affordable rental for four or six or however many months for two people, two dogs, and one cat while the house gets tarted up.


Yesterday we went to two festivals. The festivals were located in the two neighborhoods where we were looking for houses: Brewer's Hill and Hampden. Hands down, we both had more fun and preferred the people in the festival in Hampden (minus the creepy lady in the cool tiny shop who followed us around and at one point blocked our exit from the store. On purpose. Weird.). We didn't plan it that way, but it was nice to have our choice of neighborhood validated.

The house comes with an antique Chambers gas stove, which, if it can be rehabbed and used will have a prominent, hopefully-shiny-blue place in our new kitchen. If not, we might put a sink in it and re-purpose it.


(as cousin Jennifer would say, shut your filthy mouth. I am in love with this stove. Like, marriage and babies in love with this stove).

So now comes the hard part (after finding a temporary place to live). Now I need to prevent myself from visiting the house every day. I need to hold myself back from obsessively documenting all stages of the process and freaking out when all of the walls are gone and the staircase is ripped out. I need to pace myself. This will take awhile.

But at least we know we made a good choice.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Never Forget


It was on September 11, 2001 that I realized that giving birth to my then 16-month old daughter had been a huge mistake.

I breastfed Sicily exclusively until she was six months, and then continued until very nearly her 2nd birthday. Her baby food was organic and handmade. Baby products and clothes were all organic and made only of natural fibers. Her entire environment was non-toxic and safe. I read baby books on attachment parenting. I did everything right.

But I realized on that sunny, beautiful September morning as I sat with my hand over my mouth and tears in my eyes that I would never be able to protect her from the reality of a world where people would destroy strangers’ lives on principle. Where a beautiful sunny day could be shattered in an instant by four planes: two in New York, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Washington, D.C.

As parents rushed all over the city to scoop their children up from school and daycare and squeeze them tight, I let her stay where she was. I sat frozen on the couch in an empty house, watching the endless tragic loop, listening to the broadcasters’ voices crack when they realized people in the towers were leaping to their death rather than burning alive or waiting for the inevitable. I couldn't bring myself to go pick my sweet baby up from daycare. That would mean that even before she realized it, the end of my ability to protect her had come. The day when she would see fear and pain and sadness on my face, far beyond what I had ever experienced up to that point, had arrived.

I did pick her up. I did squeeze her. I turned off the news and we played games that I don’t remember. I made a big pan of lasagna and drove to a friend’s house so we wouldn't have to be alone. After Sicily went to sleep in their spare room, my friend and I sat and drank wine, quietly. Being with people helped. Earlier in the day I tried to call her dad where he was captaining a supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico and couldn't get in touch with him; later that night, we cried on the phone together and told each other how much we loved each other.

I think we all lost our feeling of normalcy and safety in the world on September 11, 2001. I think everyone, for at least a little while, stopped taking things for granted. People were kinder and, for just a few weeks, more tolerant. It didn't last long; on the surface at least, the snappish impatience returned like the planes when the airspace above the United States was opened again. I remember driving to my parent’s house past Hartsfield-Jackson airport and hearing the first plane in days and how alien and welcome that sound was. I remember thinking that people would go back to their small lives again, and that the lessons of the past few days would be quickly shoved aside.

But then I realized that even if people returned to their distracted, unkind, and dismissive ways, we would never be the same, and that every child of the millennium would be raised in a world much different from their parents’.  Something had shifted. As I snuggled with my sleepy baby in bed the night of September 11, 2001, I knew things had irrevocably changed. People had irrevocably changed, even if they didn't know it yet.

Sicily started her freshman year at City College in Baltimore this fall, and whether she and the class of 2018 know it or not, they are now coming into control of a world that is vastly different than it was when they were just turning two. I hope I have given her the kindness and strength to make a difference. We talk about September 11th every year so that even if she doesn't remember, she will never forget.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pulling The Trigger, Or My Year Of Grieving Dangerously


A gun metaphor seems appropriate for Charm City, even though the murder total is down from last year.

This morning while I was avoiding doing any sort of work, I came across the opportunity to train to be a volunteer docent at the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). AVAM is my newest most favorite museum. It is filled with untrained artists, lots of local color, and the quirkiest, best, most non-museum-y gift shop ever. You would think I would jump at that opportunity, as I am sure it comes with free stuff, like memberships, etc, and I am all about trading.

But I am having a hard time pulling the trigger.

There are other things I haven't done that I could have, a few opportunities here and there that I have passed on by doing nothing.

It's hard not to beat myself up about this a little, but I recognize that is ridiculous.

The second year of grief, which is over halfway finished, has been marked by constant motion. CONSTANT. From finishing the tiny house to showing it at the White House to moving it to Delaware to packing the townhouse to moving the bulk of our stuff to storage in Baltimore to cleaning and fixing the townhouse to rent to finally moving to Baltimore (take that, grammar check). CONSTANT MOTION.

Now we find ourselves in a purgatory of moving, staying with friends and looking for a house, settling into routines that will be upended and re-established when we finally move into our own space. When I am alone, I have been melting into a well-loved reclining rocking chair by the window, working periodically but mostly watching the world outside the windows and listening to the dogs snore (and bark wildly whenever someone walks by).

It's not relaxing, necessarily, so much as it is just stopping. Not moving. No motion.

So when it's time to move again, the laws of physics kick in. Inertia. It's hard to get the object in motion.

Even for things I know I will enjoy, it is hard to get up out of the chair to make them happen.

I think this is part of my Year of Grieving Dangerously. Now that we have made a huge move and instituted changes, the real work begins. I am writing, which is immensely satisfying, and I am in a state and a city I love, which I have waited for years to come home to, but the interior work that requires simultaneous action and reflection is still in progress. I think the key is to do it whether or not I want to. To make plans and go into the world.

Very complex. Very difficult. Feels impossible.

It is every part of the first two and nothing of the last, but still. It's that part of nothing to look forward to and every possibility in front of me at the same time. It's the part of grief that isn't wailing and weeping and woe-is-me-ing but is just as potent and powerful and capable of sitting you on your ass. In a well-loved reclining rocking chair by a window. Waiting for snow.

Trying to pull the trigger.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Start At The Beginning, Or How To Eat The Elephant


"There I stood, on a ladder six feet off the ground, barely able to breathe. It was blustery outside, and everything froze and crystallized in the cold as I fought to catch my breath. I had just smashed my thumb with the whacker-tacker while tacking up a vapor barrier by myself. Yesterday’s insulation was still under my skin, literally, and tears welled up in my eyes in that moment as my thumb expanded, got hot, and began to throb."

This is the first paragraph of the first draft of the book I mentioned yesterday.

By the time I am finished with this book, it may not remain the first paragraph, but for now, here it is.

One bite at a time, or, as Anne Lamott would say, bird by bird...

(and writers out there will recognize this blog post as a blatant avoidance tactic, but we won't talk too much about that...)


Monday, September 1, 2014

This Just In


I am writing another book.

Details to follow.

I am hoping that by making a public announcement of this I will actually finish my outline, flesh out each chapter, and put deadline dates for myself on a calendar.

I plan to have it ready to go by the end of the spring. I think it is going to be more complicated than I am planning, but if I can get a draft together it means I am on the path.

Hint: this one is going to be a good one. Non-fiction. Chicks, construction, tiny houses. Projects. #Skillz #GirlPower

Oh, and I am looking for representation and a book deal. #DetailsDetails #IfYouWriteItTheyWillCome