Unbelievable, Unseasonal

So, here it is, the last day of January in Wisconsin, and the temperature is….53 degrees Fahrenheit?!

Global warming is no hoax.

One of my Nature in the Parks programs for tomorrow was postponed because parents felt that the first of February would be too cold to send their darling children outside for a field trip.  They re-scheduled for the 29th of February.  What do you want to bet that tomorrow will be about 20 degrees warmer than the temperature by the end of the month?  Of course, you never know.  But don’t you think kids are resilient enough to be allowed to go outside every day of the year?  They pull on their snow pants, and they’re as protected as if they were wearing bubble wrap!  And they love it!  They dive headlong into any accumulated snow just so that they can bounce back!

Today’s group at the Wehr Nature Center didn’t go outside because they were doing the Skylab unit under the big inflated planetarium dome.  But I went out on the trails.  Here are some shots:

Mirror, mirror, on the lake


Sky Jellies


Grandmother Willow


Snow Boardwalk

I’ve been on the phone and on the computer for about three hours now, doing some “business”.  It’s time to go back outside, before the sun sets!



What is Love?

Yesterday, I read a travel post about a European romantic trend called Love Locks.  Apparently, an Italian novel whose title translates to “I Need You” has spawned the custom of lovers affixing padlocks to public fences, bridges, gates and whatnot as a sign of their everlasting love.  This idea really rubs me the wrong way, so I’m sorting out my thoughts to figure out why.  Of course, this is about me, not about judging any of the couples who have participated in this ritual nor about anyone else who thinks it’s romantic.  So, what do I know about me?

First of all, I worry about the accumulation of stuff.  Seeing all those padlocks encrusting a surface reminds me of the proliferation of manufactured gadgets and things that we humans often allow to run unchecked.  Apparently, many city officials also consider them “an eyesore”.  It occurs to me that if they were something natural or biodegradable (like flower petals or garlands?), I would probably not feel this instant repulsion.  This may be just the surface of the aesthetic mismatch, however.

Second, I think a lot about symbolism.  What does a padlock say about love?  In all fairness, I have not read the novel, so I am probably missing the finer points.  I understand the desire for security in a relationship.  I was married for 24 years, “until death”, and I positively flourished under the safety of that bond.  But now that Jim has slipped all surly bonds, I think that anything everlasting must be a bit more mutable than metal, more plastic than any tangible material.  The words of a song by John Denver keep floating to the surface of my consciousness.  The title of the song is “Perhaps Love”.  Here’s a bit of the chorus: “Some say love is holding on and some say letting go; and some say love is everything and some say they don’t know”.   I guess I have to say that lately I’ve been sitting in the “letting go” camp.  Out of necessity, obviously.  I did the struggle of holding on.  I found it to be an ego thing, ultimately unsustainable.  Letting go, opening up, imagining expansiveness is a way to include a lot more without confining it to an embrace.  I believe love wants to include a lot more by nature.

Two nights before my love died was Valentine’s Day.  We celebrated at home with champagne and salmon in the company of two of our daughters.  My oldest brought out a book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and read this one (Love Sonnet #92):

My love, should I die and you don’t,
let us give grief no more ground:
my love, should you die and I don’t,
there is no piece of land like this on which we’ve lived.

Dust in the wheat, sand in the desert sands,
time, errant water, the wandering wind
carried us away like a navigator seed.
In such times, we may well not have met.

The meadow in which we did meet,
oh tiny infinity, we give back.
But this love, Love, has had no end,

and so, as it had no birth,
it has no death. It is like a long river
that changes only its shores and its banks.

Translation: Terence Clarke

I cannot imagine trying to put a padlock on a wheat field or on the desert sands, on the wind or on a river.  I cannot imagine putting a padlock on time, even though that’s a concept we made up, just like the padlock, as a way to try to control things.  I do know that the impulse to lock down an experience is very human and very old.  The ancient story of the Transfiguration of Jesus comes to mind.   Jesus and three of his disciples (Peter, James and John) climb a mountain, and there the disciples have an experience of seeing Jesus in glowing white raiment talking to Moses and Elijah.  Good old impetuous Peter gets all excited and bursts out with an idea.  “Let’s build three booths (or tabernacles)!  We can put each of you in one and hang on to this experience for a while longer, perhaps invite others….”   He is silenced by a booming voice from the clouds. “Listen!”  When the cloud lifts, Jesus stands alone, and they decide to keep quiet instead.

I am beginning to recognize a kind of flow, a yin and yang of contrasting energies, in myself.  I think it has something to do with my biological cycle, but it also manifests in a mood cycle.  I feel that expansive, fecund, open sense bubbling up in me, settling me down, inviting me to nurture and set free.  Then, a while later, I feel a feisty urge to grab hold and wrestle with my circumstances and force them to conform to some idea in my brain.   I could say that I am still loving with both energies.  I used to tell my children that I disciplined them because I loved them, and I believe that’s true, but I think there’s an ego love and a non-ego love.   They are both part of me.  One is not “right” and the other “wrong”, but I think that the non-ego kind is more beneficial in the universe.

Valentine’s Day is a few weeks away.  It’s a time when many people are thinking about love, romantic love.  I keep challenging myself to think bigger, to open up.  I hear the voice booming from the clouds, from the trees, from the water and the air.  It asks me to Listen.  So I guess it’s time to shut up.

I Have Had Delight….

“I have had delight…” said the old man, as he was taking his leave.  Before he even finished his sentence, I threw my arms around his waist and embraced him.

This is the tail end of a dream I was having last night.  I was singing, in harmony, with a bunch of friends as we walked, ran, skipped along toward…some place.  We were singing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, and the old man was striding alongside, enjoying our spontaneous fun.

Disjointed happy feelings!  This is definitely the result of spending an evening with my Approximate Daughter and her First Mate.  AD has only recently changed her name from The Approximate Chef, her blogging moniker.  Her life has become filled with other pursuits, and so the blog lies dormant (unlike a yeast bread, I doubt it will double in size with the inattention).  I’m not sure what the adjective means when it modifies what kind of  a daughter she is…

I regret not bringing my camera along last night.  My daughter, who is all of 4 feet, 11 inches tall, was wearing patterned stockings, high boots and a mini skirt.  The night before, she had a gig with the punk performance art band she’s in.  She radiates energy and fun and intelligence in a combination that is the absolute antithesis of the depressing Goth style.  I would have taken several pictures of her.  Instead, they are locked in my memory.  Especially one, near the end of the meal, when she was laughing at something Steve said about an idea he has for an avant garde restaurant.  She was positively lit up – pert pixie hairdo and megawatt smile – in a way that reminded me instantly of her toddlerhood.  You know how 2-year-olds laugh with their mouths wide open, their eyes crinkled up, and their tiny bodies just wriggling with delight?  Somehow, my daughter is still an excited toddler.

I would also have taken a picture of the restaurant.   Well, actually, I would have taken a picture of the building across the street from inside the restaurant.  “Graze” is located on the square in Madison, across the street from the capitol dome, which is floodlit at night.  The entire face of the restaurant is glass, modern lines, minimalist decor, and the place was packed with people.  So imagine the ultra-swanky mood lighting inside, silhouettes and sparkles, and outside, the huge monolith of a granite dome bathed in greenish light.   It made me feel like one of the “beautiful people” just being there.

Photo courtesy travelwisconsin.com

And I would have taken a picture of the food.  It was artfully delicious.  Madison is celebrating Restaurant Week where establishments offer a three-course prix fixe menu, and  Graze features food exclusively from local farms, so it was all very elegant and very fresh.  And the cocktails were amazing!  My daughter ordered The Big Small: Small’s gin infused with rosemary, lemon thyme, black pepper and capers.  So fragrant and savory!  Her First Mate ordered The Center of the Universe: Cane & Abe rum, chamomile honey, lemon juice, raspberry liqueur and cinnamon.  Steve had his standard vodka martini, I had my standard gin & tonic.  We had deviled eggs as an appetizer with that, and talked about the nearby Mustard Museum.   I had a beet salad with a delicious vinaigrette, warm blue cheese fondue, and walnuts.   Steve and First Mate had cod cakes with fava beans.  AD had BBQ ribs with a square of mac and cheese…very Wisconsin.  That was the first course.  For the second, Steve & I had the Lamb Pappardelle, FM had the pork schnitzel, and AD had the most delicious tofu dish I have ever tasted.  It was called Crispy Smoked Tofu and was served with caramelized sweet potatoes and cauliflower, roasted red pepper, shiitake mushroom, leeks, wild rice, curry shiitake sauce, peanuts and cilantro.  I would love to find out where or how they get smoked tofu…and then purchase a truckload for myself!  We drank a bottle of Bonny Doon shiraz (a winery I’ve actually been to; it’s about 30 miles from my mom’s house in California) with that course, and then got dessert.  Steve & I had bread pudding with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, and I didn’t even taste the others.  I was absolutely giddy by the end of the meal.  Fine dining puts me into a “happy place” like nothing else…probably because of childhood memories of my father taking us out and being proud and pleased and well fed.  When he was in a good mood, the universe was all in harmony for me.

My father died of Alzheimer’s in March of 2010.  Maybe he’s the old man who said, “I have had delight….”  in my dream.

Me, too, Dad!  Thanks for teaching me how to enjoy food and family.

Self-Assessment Saturday

Without a nature center engagement this morning, for the first time in 4 days, I allowed myself to sleep in and have some pillow talk with Steve.  Basically, that amounts to an intimate conversation about where I’ve been emotionally and philosophically while I’ve been active socially.  And now, we’re heading off to Madison to fete my oldest daughter for her birthday.  So, this is it for today’s post.  More anon…..

Let’s Make Tracks!

It was tracking day at the Wehr Nature Center for a group of 24 third graders.  They made plaster molds of animal tracks and then went outside in the bright sunshine to find some animal evidence.  Those hearty species who stick out the Wisconsin winter without migrating or hibernating include squirrels, weasels & mink, deer, raccoon, opossum, fox, skunk, cottontail rabbit, pheasant, and a bunch of birds (cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, doves, nuthatches).  Of course, we didn’t see all these, but we did find clues: tracks, scat, and browse marks where they’d eaten branches and bark.

This is how we draw the kids' attention to a find

Whose little hands have been here?

And then, the sunshine creates lines and angles everywhere.

And the water that isn’t frozen ripples and sparkles, creating more textures of light and shadow.

I’m liking the black and white idea today.  Steve & I are planning to see “The Artist” this afternoon, a new silent film in black & white.  Sometimes, the world seems just too much to comprehend, so we break it down into stylized bits and patterns so that we can wrap our feeble brains around some part of it.   What would it be like to walk around open to everything at once, without compartmentalizing or simplifying?  Would we explode?

Winter Photos

So, here’s a pictorial view of my week.

I made almond cookies for Chinese New Year.  Extremely tasty with Amaretto and orange slices.

Honorable Almond Cookie

I supervised a bunch of 4 year-olds (68 of them, actually!) as they played in the Wehr Nature Center’s play space with spray bottles of diluted liquid watercolors.

Like a giant sno cone

I watched the sun setting in the west from my second story bedroom window.

"World turning on the burning sun...." (James Taylor)

And I felt the frost fly up on feathered wings into the morning light…and into my bones.

This morning, I took a group of Kindergarteners out on a nature hike.  One little boy walked beside me, counting excitedly.  “I found a hundred things!” he shouted.  Oh, there so many more than that, I thought.

Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!

-William Carlos Williams (from “Paterson – Book One”)
Things…winter things…frosty filigreed, foggy white, cold-packed and angular,  distant and spare.

Ideas…winter ideas…hard and dense, insular, desperate, furtive.

Winter Warmth

A group of 68 pre-schoolers visited the Wehr Nature Center today.  I volunteered to supervise their play time outside.  Six groups rotated through my station, staying 15 minutes.  I spent an hour and a half standing in the snow, watching them spray diluted liquid watercolors onto that white, frozen canvas.  It ended up looking like a flavored snow cone playground.  I didn’t think to get a picture of it at the end, though, because all that was on my mind was getting feeling back into my toes.  Brrr….

The sky is gray, the bare branches are gray, the ground is gray, my gray matter is gray.   Suddenly, a flash of red whips over the roof and settles at the bird feeder.  A cardinal!  Oh, happy wings of fire!

We were hiking the Ice Age Trail, through a dark pine forest by the Oconomowoc River.  Through the trees, I saw a red barn with it’s face shining in the late afternoon sun.  It burned like a beckoning hearth.

I’m wearing a red sweatshirt, half wishing it would burst into flames and warm me up.  What I really wish….is that I had a fireplace.  I love building fires.  I love the smell of a fire.  I love watching the flames in their colorful dance.  I love the warmth.  When I was a child, I would pester my father to start a fire in the fireplace.  It made an otherwise ordinary evening feel like a holiday.

Alas, I have no fireplace, so I am going to attempt a simulation.  Mesquite incense sticks, flannel pajama pants, and several layers of blankets.  Maybe I’ll warm up enough to fall asleep for a little while.  For all you warm-blooded, hibernating, furry creatures out there, stay snug.  It ain’t over yet.

27 years ago today – My Greatest Adventure began

I crossed a threshold.  My life was completely altered, impacted, and enhanced by a single event: I gave birth.  What that has taught me about myself, from biology to personal philosophy, and about the rest of the world by extension, might fill a future book.  Today, I’ll just touch on a few categories.

Biology – I was 21 when I got pregnant, 22 when I gave birth.  I weighed about 105 lbs. starting out and 128 lbs. at delivery.  Baby Sooz weighed 7 lbs. 4 oz.  I had never experienced so much physical change in so short a time, and each new symptom and sign astonished me.   I remember looking at myself in a full length mirror and thinking that I looked like a road map, every vein in bright blue following the landscape of my pregnant body.  Weird!  I read every bit of literature the doctor handed me with utter fascination, and photographs of babies in utero by Lennart Nilsson kept me spellbound for hours.

Family – My mother had given birth just 11 years before me, and that had been the most exciting thing in my life at the time.  I would rush home from school every day to play with the baby.  I read all the baby magazines that came in the weekly diaper service delivery.  At 22, I wanted to be as confident, as devoted, as blissful a mother as I found my own mother to be.   My father helped me pick a name.  I had originally intended to name my first daughter after my sister who had died at 20, but then, the thought of using that name all the time for another person began to seem odd.  Then my father told me that he dreamed about a little girl named Susan, and that name sounded just right with my sister’s name following.  And, of course, she got my husband’s Italian last name to add the exotic touch.  First grandchild on both sides.  Three generations assembled for her baptism.  A whole lot of expectation going on.

Personality – Just after delivery, I was wheeled to the recovery room with the baby in my arms.  The baby.  Susan.  Not my baby, not my daughter, not my family’s latest addition.  Susan.  A person I had just met.  She had a bunch of dark hair on the top of her head.  My husband and I were blonde.  I looked into her completely alert brown eyes and told her, “I love you.”  It was a conscious act of will.  She hadn’t done anything, yet.  I didn’t feel anything, yet.  I was stating my intent for our relationship, for my own benefit.  I don’t think anyone else was paying attention.  I wanted to start things off with a pledge to her, and I wanted to leave room for her to be herself.  I remember being conscious of that position when I spoke to her for the first time.  I love that she has been teaching me about who she is ever since.

As Tenebrous at The Faerie Festival

Education – Showing a young person the world for the first time is an absolute joy – a shared joy, too.  I’ve always loved teaching.  I’ve always loved learning.  To have the opportunity to engage enthusiastically with new experiences day after day is the greatest part of parenting, I think.  Language acquisition, scientific experiment, art, music, dance, games, literature….oh, wow!  The truth is, I was afraid to take her out into the world outside much.  We lived in a rather nasty section of Southern California.  I didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood, so we spent a lot of time indoors, truthfully.  I did take her to my college town a few miles away for outdoor exploration pretty regularly, though.  What I remember is a lot of time together looking at books and that when a friend asked to test her IQ just out of curiosity, her gross motor skill were the only ones that weren’t advanced for her age.  So, she’s not an athlete.  But, man, does she read!

Literature – My father delighted in bringing literature into her life.  When she was able to sound out words of three letters just before her third birthday, he wrote her little stories containing only words of three letters or less.   He sent her cassette tapes of family readings of Dr. Seuss books and various musical selections.  We visited the children’s library every week and took home as much as we could carry.  Very early, it was Richard Scarry for vocabulary, Peter Spier for detailed illustrations to talk about, A.A. Milne for poetry and stories.  Later, I remember going through all of Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet and Chris Van Allsburg and Steven Kellogg and Robert McCloskey because it was quicker to just find their stuff all at once and check out…this was when I had younger kids in tow.  Then the day I knew would come finally did.  She surpassed me.  Her reading speed and voracity and curiosity outstripped mine.  She read Stephen King’s It at the age of 9.  I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t want to read it.  She was on her own.  (Not that she didn’t do that earlier; she probably did.  But this was the one I remembered.)

Psychology – This section would require her approval and collaboration.  Suffice it to say that we have learned a lot together about who we are, who others are, and how to be in relationship.  We have always “gotten along”, though, and shared a remarkable honesty.  As adults, we really enjoy each other’s company and we genuinely like each other.  We stimulate each other in all sorts of ways…like sharing a history that enables us to reference entire concepts and discussions with one or two words.

I think that our first conversation was prophetic:

“I love you.”

*brown eyes alert, gazing back, positive*

Stay tuned for Sunday’s blog, where I’ll probably write about how we celebrated her birthday in Madison the night before….

one of those arm's-length self-portraits she took of us on our road trip to Massachusetts

Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Magic Flute, Happy Ethiopian restaurant

I just got back from my visit to Chicago to see my youngest child, take her to the Lyric Opera, eat dinner and sleep over.  Had a grand time, and stashed my camera in my purse so that I could share the event on this post.  So, here are the characters:

Scillagrace, actually wearing make-up and a new scarf from the Fair Trade store


...and Mema, who is always too fabulous for words


And here is the Lyric Opera House in Chicago….

Grand staircase with gold banisters and red carpet

Iconic fire-proof curtain screen

Theatrical gold chandeliers

Patrons people-watching over the balcony

The matinee performance of Die Zauberflote (imagine 2 dots over that ‘o’) attracts a younger audience and satisfies the anticipation of spectacle by including plenty of flashy pyro effects, disappearances through the trap door, animal costumes, flying and gliding set pieces with people on them, and all that good fun.  The hyper-vengeful Queen of the Night was a tad disappointing.  Her famous raging aria was not always on pitch (actually sharp on a high D!) or facile in the fast passages.  She’s a younger singer, not as seasoned.  Pamina was exquisite, however, showing superb control in her dolce pianissimo.  Mema felt the chills!  And Papageno was an expert clown as well as a spot-on baritone who had the audience eating out of his hand.  Bravi tutti!  On to dinner…

A little Ethiopian restaurant with only 8 people in it besides us.  I’ve never eaten authentic Ethiopian food before.  It is served without utensils.  You break off pieces of the spongy, sour flat bread (injera) and grab the spiced food with that.  I ordered a lamb stew; Mema had a vegetarian platter which took up half the table!  Five different spiced vegetable dishes on one huge round of injera: squash, green beans, mushrooms, chick peas, and salad.

The injera is sort of like a damp rag...but tastier

Delicious, and new!  Toddled off to Mema’s apartment to get into comfy clothes, cuddle the cat, watch a video of my late husband (her dad) singing a recital, have a few drinks and a good, cathartic cry before going to bed in the king-sized cushy bed that used to be mine….

I love my daughter, as a person as well as a family member.  I love that we can talk honestly about everything, share on the deepest level, feel genuine affection for each other, and play together!

One thing I noted, however; nighttime in the city is noisy!   The elevated train rumbles by, rattling the brick building; the floors sag and creak when anyone walks through the apartment; the cat purrs loudly next to my ear.   So, now that I am back home, I’m going to take a nap!  Toodles….

Squirrely Post

I have a rather social weekend lined up.  Tonight is our Chinese New Year celebration with Steve’s sister.  Tomorrow is the Lyric Opera (Die Zauberflote) with my youngest.  So, here’s a quick share…photos I took this morning as I watched my squirrel friend digging around in the fresh powder for the leftover popcorn I put out on his chair.

Sorry for the poor quality…the windows in the living room are pretty dirty!

More anon, good friends…..Happy Chinese New Year!