Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Day with the Mummers

Every New Year’s Day, thousands of Philadelphians, mostly men, don elaborate costumes of sequins, spangles, and feathers. They carry banjos, saxophones, and double-basses to march in one of the most unusual events in the world - Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Armchair Traveling: Japan at the Met

When I enter the Asian wing of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum, I am transported to a realm like no other.  I turn one way and arrive in a land of bamboo and cranes, or another and travel with philosophers on their long, slow journeys to sit and draw and write and talk.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Search of Lost Cookies

And suddenly the memory appeared.  That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray . . . my aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea . . .

'Tis the season of the cookie.  With visions of Mom and Grandma baking Christmas cookies dancing in my head, I put out a call for family reminiscences and got this reply:  “No doubt you will make mention of Mrs. Schweer's cookies.”

Mrs. Schweer?  Who the devil is Mrs. Schweer?  I turned in desperation to the internet.  Lo, there she was!  She’d been written up in Life Magazine, and she’d died at age 105 in the very hospital where I was born.  I wrote Mom to confirm.

“Not our Mrs. Schweer.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Invictus - My Memory of the Game


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

William Ernest Henly

It is said that Nelson Mandela drew inspiration from this poem which he kept on a scrap of paper in his prison cell for 27 years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things As They Are

"Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar."
-Wallace Stevens

I’ve been troubled by computer problems and an inconstant internet these past few days.  I had to remind myself there was a time when such things were not only unnecessary, but not even available.  I had to think:  what, then, were the things I used to use?

I no longer own a typewriter, so I looked around for a notebook and a pen.  I found them foreign objects, and inefficient.  I looked for a dictionary, but had only a small paperback that didn’t contain what I required.  I wanted confirmation of something I’d been told:  that the etymological root of the word “poet” was “maker.”  Without my usual tools to search, I was thrown back on my own experience for proof.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Anne Carson's Red Monster

Now and then, as a vestige of my egghead education, I’m compelled to attempt a hard book.  So when I was shown The Power of the Center:  A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, I thought, why not?  At page 44, I set it down by Finnegans Wake, vowing, MacArthur-like, to return to each.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rising from the Ashes

As the shortest, darkest day of the year approaches, the town of Phoenixville PA will light up the night with the 6th annual Firebird Festival on Saturday, December 12th. The highlight of the Festival is the lighting of the Firebird, a 29 foot tall wooden replica of the mythical Phoenix bird. Area artists spent several weekends constructing the bird sculpture that now sits on Bridge Street, a block away from the town’s retail center. When lit, the firebird will become a huge bonfire to illuminate the darkness of December.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

There are close to 200 versions of “White Christmas” available on iTunes. And I think I have inadvertently heard most of them on the radio already this year. For the past several years, come mid-November, two radio stations on my car’s preset list change over to “All Christmas Music! All the Time!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Mother, the Queen, and Susan Boyle

I will confess that I once got sucked into a season of American Idol:  the clash of the titans, Ruben and Clay.  So when a friend sent a YouTube clip of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, I knew Simon Cowell was the judge to watch.  And, as a result of that heads-up, I wasn’t caught entirely flat-footed when my mother said she hoped Susan Boyle would get a chance to sing for the Queen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I have it on good authority that the snowflake has long been up at the crossroads of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City.  Shop windows are already dressed for the coming holidays, and December 2nd is the date for lighting the Rockefeller Center tree.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Boats That Won’t Float: Sculptures by Gwyn Metz

Open the door of Chrystoph Marten’s salon and out float dulcet strains of music reminiscent of the sea.  Marten himself may greet you at the door, hairbrush in hand, and, with a welcoming smile, wave you toward a wall along which are arrayed some of Gwyn Metz’s “boats that won’t float.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

As Thanksgiving Approaches . . .

With “Temporary Visitors,” we paused to consider the turkey’s fate; with “May I Eat as I Please, Please?” we ruminated about French tarts and frozen peas.  With “Thanksgiving Prep,” we ended up redecorating the house in anticipation of arriving guests.  And with “Thanksgiving in South Africa,” we were reminded that Thanksgiving is not just about the groaning board.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving in South Africa

South Africans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do we have an equivalent to this uniquely American tradition.

I’ve been privileged to experience Thanksgiving with family and friends for each of the fourteen years that I’ve lived in America. This year, we’re in South Africa. I feel oddly disoriented.

It seems strange to be surrounded by Christmas trees and all things Christmas this early in November, as the country gears up for the holidays. It’s as though a crucial step has been skipped. I want to let everybody know what they’re missing. I want to say that Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to prepare for December and the end of another year; whether we celebrate Christmas or not. I want to explain how, every year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans join together around bountiful tables to share a meal of Turkey with all the trimmings, celebrating their ties to people they love and giving thanks for their blessings; without the stresses and strains brought on by excessive commercialization.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Prep

It all begins, innocently enough, with my simple desire to replace the comforter on my son’s twin bed. After 10 years, it is faded and worn. My husband has a clever idea though – don’t buy another twin comforter, let’s use this opportunity to move the full-size guest bed into our son’s room, since he is now 6 feet tall and not nearly done growing. Our son will be much more comfortable in a full size bed, and we can move his twin bed to the guest room.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

May I Eat As I Please, Please?

Every Saturday this summer, we visited the local farmer’s market—for fresh vegetables, of course, but also for French tarts so good you knew butter suffused every pastry pore.  I waited to have my annual blood-letting until the market closed, for I suspected my cholesterol level might be in doubt.  I should have waited until the holidays were over.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Music to Jog By (The Beatles Remastered)

My younger sister laid claim to the Beatles first.  My idea of popular music back then was Henry Mancini's movie scores and Nino Temple and April Stevens crooning Deep Purple.  When Ed Sullivan brought the mop-headed boys into our living room, I more than feigned indifference—I really didn’t see the point.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Temporary Visitors

I can’t stop thinking about turkeys. A few days ago while out driving, I notice the open field next to my children’s former preschool has become home to a large flock of turkeys. A temporary fence encloses 50 or so beautiful white turkeys roaming the pasture. Who knew turkeys could be white, instead of the typical brown versions that adorn grocery store ads in November?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Weather Game

November is when Winter tries to make an early appearance in Southwest Florida. Summer will have none of it. After lulling us into a false sense of security by allowing a few mercifully cool days, Summer sends the usurper packing with a stealth move – an eleventh hour Hurricane.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The End of Daylight Savings Time

For those of us who are not, by nature, early risers, it’s unclear whether the end of daylight savings time is friend or foe.  In the morning, we make it a point of honor not to rise in the dark.  The end of daylight savings time foils our resolve, for daybreak arrives too early and wakes us up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Problem with Wallace Stevens

Our poet-friend came visiting, The New York Review of Books in hand, with Dan Chiasson’s review of the new Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens.  We pored over the review, trying to find in poems the things Chiasson said were there to see.  I felt I had tiptoed up behind a group of elders, Helen Vendler and Harold Bloom chief among them, peaking over their shoulders for a glimpse of Susanna.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Field of My Dreams

I don’t recall which my dad taught me first – to throw a curveball or hit a curveball. Both skills were necessary for a budding baseball fan like his only daughter. Later lessons, like when to try the hit-and-run and why Richie Ashburn was one of the most underrated boys of summer, cemented my love for the game. By college I was sure I could only fall in love with someone who also understood the infield fly rule.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leaping Lizards and Sarasota Sunsets

Something leaps off the wall onto my shoulder and we both jump in terror – the lizard lands lightly and speeds off into the undergrowth, I go back to clearing the steamy jungle that is my garden in summer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


A few days ago, when the cold weather lifted, the ladybugs were first to know.  They spun in the air and clung to the shingles.  They slipped inside the house and parked on the ceiling, hung from shade pulleys, and hugged the window screens.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is Poughkeepsie

“Suddenly, there’s Poughkeepsie, except for its spelling, an ordinary town.” 
 -Grace Paley

Poughkeepsie lies on the east bank of the Hudson River, midway between New York City and Albany, New York.  It's south of the Culinary Institute of America, north of the Dia:Beacon galleries, and west of Millbrook and horse country, all three of which are destinations in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley.  But should anyone go to Poughkeepsie itself?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Raining Acorns

It’s raining acorns. Last year I thought the sound was squirrels, harrying the leaves. The sounds were scattered though, in space and time. That should have been a clue, but I was too much a novice to connect the acorns strewn across our driveway with the noises in the woods.