Anne Notations

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The cloud of unknowing

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whosoever does not know it and can no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My fifty-fifth year to heaven. Or, somewhere.

When I was a kid, I could tell it was time for my birthday when all of a sudden, whoooomp, the trees would shuck off their last pretty leaves and we would enter The Dread Drear Murk of mid-November.

Today I awoke on my 55th birthday to a muffler of fog and a classic case of the New England late-autumn blahs. It was a gray day, wet, devoid of color. Devoid of joy, I feared.

Yes, that is the same tree I photographed last week in all of its crimson glory. It's still attractive in an austere, bare-ruined-choirs way, but the sight of all those gorgeous leaves lying soggily on the ground is a bit depressing.

My birthday began even less auspiciously and far earlier than usual with a 2:30 a.m. gastric-reflux event that had me leaping from bed and violently hawking my lungs out to clear them of searing bile. Afterwards, breathless, I was afraid to lie down and risk a recurrence, so I stayed up and Googled "aspiration pneumonia" and scared the bejeezus out of myself until 4 a.m.
As my daughter kindly and correctly observed this morning: "Mom, you have huge bags under your eyes."

If I'd ever doubted that I was at the far end of middle age, here was the proof.

At 55 you start getting birthday cards that feature wizened biddies and wisecracking taglines.
This is the front of the actual card that my husband left on the counter for me this morning. Thanks, dear!

Never mind. Daisy must be walked first thing, so off we went in the clammy fog. Right away, we saw a work crew deconstructing a big old tree down the block - so cheery. That's definitely what we need in our neighborhood: more barren streetscapes.

The second and third things I noticed were our For Sale By Owner sign squatting forlornly on the front lawn, and the bedraggled remnants of the "pretty perennial gardens" mentioned in all my Craigslist ads for our house. Ach.

Ach. Walk. Walk walk walk. For a while it seemed we would encounter nothing but bleakness.
A bizarrely carbuncled tree trunk, for example, and some smooshed hosta leaves that had forsaken all hope.

There was some downright evil-looking stuff out there in the fog, like a humungous gnarled tree root that a homeowner on Rochambeau Avenue mounted on a metal pipe in his front yard. Behold the nightmare child of Pablo Picasso and Hieronymous Bosch. Doesn't it trill "Welcome" to one and all?

And how about this beauty across the street? Yikes.

Quit that snickering, Mother Nature. Halloween is over.

I saw something that chronically makes me mad. Several mornings a week, a long trailer truck blocks half of Hope Street while it unloads at Davis Dairy. Pedestrians like Daisy and me - and, worse, moms and dads with strollers or younglings walking south - risk our lives trying to get past it during rush-hour traffic. Bah, humbug!

But. You knew there would be a but, didn't you? And coming from me, you knew it would be - snicker - a BIG but. Deep down inside, or maybe bubbling just under the surface, or actually prancing around like a floozy, is my inner Pollyanna, the unlikely optimist who sees the lemonade in every lemon, the silver lining in every glowering cloud. You are forewarned: here she comes.

As we walked I began to notice other stuff: a little tree bravely flaunting its still-glowing leaves. Ornamental grasses waving feathered heads alongside a busy street. A Tenacious D(aisy), smiling and sunny, next to someone's front steps.

That sly Mother Nature even hung some jewels on a dogwood tree for me. A girl's best friend!

The best part was encountering a dear friend from Little Compton in the 1980s. From the fog on Morris Avenue emerged Beverly Edwards, who had been minister of the Congregational Church I attended on the town Commons - a feminist and spiritual mentor, an inspiration, a lovely person who wrote honest, breathtaking sermons that echoed in my head for days after each Sunday service. Retired now and living in Providence, she exudes youth and kindness. Did I say the day was devoid of joy? Well, I found joy, and she was wearing a purple sweatshirt.

Back at the ranch, I realized I'd even received roses for my birthday - right in our own front yard.

No woman's birthday would be complete without chocolate. Mine was a bag of Lindt peanut butter balls from Kevin, who also made me a card.

In case it's hard to make out, here's a detail - Kevin's rendering of yours truly wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. This broad is way sassier than the crone who looked back at me from the mirror this morning. Yay!

I'd enjoyed a special birthday entertainment earlier in the week: this concert, which Andrés and I rode the commuter train to Boston to see Monday night. Yep, my favorite band.

(Photos by Andrés from our vantage point in front of the stage.)

Yesterday I'd gotten some amazing smiles from Caroline the wonder-grandchild, who will turn one year old shortly and who loves to read. That's our girl!

Tonight, Michael brought home dinner from Whole Foods and this lemon mousse cake from Pastiche, our family's official Best Bakery in the World.

The icing: These smiles from Melinda and Kevin. I marvel that our kids seem to enjoy being with their ol' mom. How did I get so lucky?

So: bad weather? Ice and snow? Bleak black trees? Bring it on! I'm 55 and glad to be alive, eye-bags and all.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Time out

Hey, you. Yeah, you, Mr. or Ms. Busy Person. You with the wall-to-wall appointments, the looming deadlines, the worries and pressures and messed-up friends and relatives. You running out of Starbucks with a hot cup of foamy caffeine and a tote bag filled with memos and minutes. You with the whiny toddler and the sagging bags of groceries. You with the ailing parent. Yes, I mean YOU!

Stop. Just stop what you're doing for one minute, take slow deep breaths, look around, and find something beautiful. Gaze out the window if that helps. For once, don't look at the big picture. Find a detail and really look at it. It can be small, but powerful -- its power deriving, in part, from your attention. Acknowledge its unique lines or patterns or curves. Remark upon its color and the way that color relates to others near it. Think about what attracted your eye to this one particular thing. Write down a description of it. Sketch it in pencil, ink, crayon -- whatever you have close at hand. Take a photograph. Take more. See what you have seen in new ways. How do you feel?

OK, you can go back to your hectic workaday life now. Just promise me you will do this several times a week. Make seeing, really seeing, one of your habits ... like brushing your teeth or charging your cell-phone battery. Because beauty is everywhere, in a single tiny leaf on the pavement, in the twisted silhouette of a bare old tree. In these waning days of autumn, color waves beauty's flag at us, signals "Hello! This is all for you." We'd be fools not to stop and look.*

On morning walks with Daisy, I find scraps of sacred beauty in our urban streets and modest yards.

*For an amazing journey of awareness in this vein, please read A Life of One's Own by Joanna Field, the pseudonym of Marion Milner, who as a young woman in 1920s England sought through mindful observation and expression to know her world -- and thus, herself -- more fully.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dem big-shoe blues

Will it come to this - slippers as high fashion footwear?

Until my pregnancy in 1992, I wore a women's size 10 shoe. That's a big foot, all right, and one I came by honestly: Mom wore a 10; Dad was a 13. But worse was in the offing.

After Kevin was born, I discovered my feet had grown a half-size ... permanently. I gave away all but my sandals and began to search for shoes that fit. That's when I learned that my new size - 10.5 medium - does not exist. At least not in the inventories of department stores and moderate-priced shoe stores.

Some salespeople have told me that shoes aren't made in my size. They lie. But finding an actual 10.5 women's shoe can take you on a byzantine chase that rivals the plot of The DaVinci Code, minus the self-flagellation.

While I do own shoes, very few of them are 10.5s, and my feet are often uncomfortable. I have size 10s that run big or are open-backed or open-toed. I have 11s stuffed with Dr. Scholl insole pads to make them fit smaller. I have two pairs of Naturalizer pumps in 10.5 that fit pretty well but aren't made for walking. I have a couple of pricey shoes in European sizes - my size 41 Joseph Seibel oxfords, my size 42 Ecco clogs. At upwards of $100 a pair, I have to ration such purchases.

This fall I tried on every shoe I owned and ditched all the 11s that slipped off my heels, all the 10s that rubbed and pinched. Then I hit the Internet.

Out of six pairs of shoes I bought on eBay and in the past two weeks, one fits really well. It's a scrumptious pair of shearling house slippers. Talk about happy feet! So I've been wondering: Can I create an edgy fashion statement at the office with my cozy slippers? No ... I didn't think so. The Internet is great, but for someone who must try on every pair of shoes to check for fit and comfort, it's a cumbersome shopping solution. All those boxes to mail back!

Why can't I cruise through Marshall's like my friends and buy shoes off the racks? Why can't I shop for shoes at Macy's when they have amazing sales? You bet I am singin' dem big-shoe blues, mama.

Note to stores and manufacturers: There is no reason, none, why women's feet should come in whole and half sizes but not in TEN AND A HALF. So how about making and selling shoes for me and my big-foot sisters? We have feet and we have money. I think you need us.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


My favorite Halloween things this year:

1. This gorgeous European garden spider and her web above my parsley patch. She is huge. Bees and flies fear her, with good reason. Gnats are beneath her notice.

2. My new favorite candy bar. Yes, I think it might even be better than Reese's peanut butter cups.

3. Not bothering to carve a jack-o-lantern, instead having two whole pumpkins on the porch along with the big fake plug-in jack-o-lantern I bought at Stop & Shop. I do, however, have fond memories of the cool white pumpkin that Andrés and I decorated several years back. I downloaded the witch pattern from Martha Stewart's Web site and transferred it to the eerily pale gourd; Andrés filled it in with black paint. You can almost hear her cackle! (The witch; not Martha. I think.)

4. Caroline's first Halloween costume. Little ladybug, you are the cutest treat ever!