Book publishing. And everything else.

The Amazon Store

I’m in Seattle for work, and the Amazon store opened while I was here. So I ran over to check it out.

I didn’t bother to take pictures. It’s wholly unremarkable, except for the preternatural cheeriness of the staff – a quality I find in the staff of EVERY Seattle establishment I go to. (I’m from New York. Friendliness, the genuine desire to help, the quite sincere hope that one has found everything one needs – I’m not used to this. I HAVE BOUNDARIES, PEOPLE.)

The aisles are, as reported, rather narrow. When one wants to look at a bunch of books, one doesn’t want to have to excuse oneself or squeeeeeeeeze past the other person who is looking at PRECISELY WHAT ONE WANTS TO BE LOOKING AT ONESELF.

Obviously, with every book face-out, inventory is minimal. And every book I saw there had a shelf-talker that declaimed at least 4 stars for each book. I picked up a book of poetry called “Salt.”, but there was no indication of provenance (the author’s name was not on the book). Flipping through the verse, I wasn’t grabbed. However, visiting the product page on Amazon itself, it seems I missed a good book. Context is everything.

At the center of the store are devices – the Fire stick, plugged into a large TV screen, Kindles, etc. Along one side, some cushioned benches with Kindle Fires nearby. Kindle Paperwhites are placed on shelves intermittently throughout the store, and additional Fires and other screens are always near, so one can look things up and (presumably) order them.

I bought two books on home organization – I’m in full nesting mode these days, for obvious reasons. The checkout process was, in addition to being cheerfully Seattle-ian, slick – my credit card was recognized; my receipt was emailed to me.

It is a perfectly ordinary bookstore. That may well be what Amazon is after. In which case…I don’t even know what to think. Thanks for putting everybody else out of business so you can do what they did but less remarkably?

Birds Near Me

I’m fascinated by birds – no idea why. It appalls me that there’s something I actually share with Jonathan Franzen. I suppose not everyone is perfectly imperfect.

My apartment is a block away from Clove Lakes Park, which is filled with all sorts of interesting birds – a family of herons, at least one cormorant, kinglets (who are not afraid of anybody, and bop alongside you in the bushes as you walk), and warblers (who do the same). The centerpiece of the park, obviously, is series of lakes and streams formed by glaciers in prehistoric times, which is surrounded by trees and brush for the birds’ habitats.

Three ways of looking at a cormorant:

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Two ways of looking at a great blue heron mama and one way of looking at one of her babies:

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One way of looking at a goose who is following you unassertively, for some reason you will never fathom because geese are foul, hissing monsters who only love you for your food:


I’m also two blocks away from the Staten Island Zoo; the YMCA where I go for yoga classes is right across the street, and doing sun salutations while the peacocks are loudly mating is hilarious and fun.

See if you can find the peacock and the peahen in the tree.

Peacocks in the tree

I’m also about a mile away from Snug Harbor. There, swallows, robins, and red-winged blackbirds swirl around me in an almost terrifying way while I walk around the little pond where they live. (If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of swallow dinnertime, it’s quite disconcerting.)

Red-winged blackbird banking in the field near the pond:


And a swallow barnstorming:


And finally, because it’s Staten Island, which is the Florida of New York City:


The bird that gets caught. This is the sight that greeted me when I first came to check out my apartment. Because gallows humor is my default mode, I knew this was a truly appropriate omen.

“[T]he Only Surprise To Me Was That the Rioting Had Not Happened Sooner”: A letter from my father

I really wish I had found this 1989 letter from my father earlier. It’s a problematic letter because it is truly from the past, where terminology is not at all carefully thought through. Additionally, I’m posting an edited version of it (mostly for length and irrelevant/father-daughter asides) here, with my own notes in brackets, because I think it belongs on SOME kind of record, even if it’s only my own:

Dear Laura Jo…

[Responding to a letter I had written him about discovering Do The Right Thing and Public Enemy]…I’ll be glad to share with you some of the experience I had in the Newark area.

We went to Bloomfield, on the western edge of Newark, in the spring of 1965. [Ed. note – I was born a few months later, in a hospital in Glen Ridge.] The church we served was no more than a half dozen blocks from the Newark line. The ethnic/racial battle line at the time was drawn between blacks and Italians. [This was 1989 – capitalization/proper-nouning of “ethnicity” was all over the place.] The white Anglos [my dad was from Oklahoma/New Mexico/Texas – “white” was not enough of a description, and “white ethnic” hadn’t been invented as a term yet] had left the area around the church and headed farther out into the suburbs, giving place to Italians migrating out from central Newark. There was a lot of friction along all the lines of division, but, as I say, it was extremely intense between blacks and Italians. So, in effect, anyone traveling east-west in that area passed through four very identifiable concentric rings of racial/ethnic culture, all running as hard as they could to escape the crime, drugs, poverty, etc., in the guts of Newark.

During the ensuing year, I became aware of the build-up of tensions through close associations I had with ministers and lay people int he other churches throughout Essex County, especially down in the Newark area.

In the summer of 1966 we successfully merged our floundering little church with three others in Bloomfield, who were also floundering, to create one viable congregation. I was, ironically, in the position of having successfully worked myself out of a steady job [been there, done that, got THREE tee-shirts, apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, apparently]. Problem is, that kind of success doesn’t pay the bills. [No, sir, it don’t.]

So the Presbytery hired me temporarily to do odd jobs around the area, one of which was to fill in as an interim minister in an almost entirely black congregation [holyyyyyyyyyy God, that must have gone over well]…, until they could find a full time black minister [read your job descriptions carefully, people]. I was apprehensive from the start about that, especially since the church was located in one of the worst parts of inner city Newark. However, partyl because I found a black family in the congregation whose name was also Nixon [for the 500000th time, people, we are  not related, and this is precisely why I took my husband’s last name when I married him, I hate the questions], I was able to have a pretty good relationship with most of the people. In fact, I developed some very warm and rewarding relationships among most of them before my time was up there.

One of the things that contributed to that was an event that took place one Saturday morning in the basement of the church. I and some of the members were doing something there that day, and we got into some sort of conversation which led to them backing me into a corner and proceeding, as a group, to educate me about what it was like to be black in Newark. It was a mind blower…From that point on I did a lot of visiting and listening, and part of what I heard really alarmed me, so that by the time the riots actually broke out with burning, killing, looting, and the whole nine yards, the only surprise to me was that the rioting had not happened sooner. Turns out that the city and all city departments, including the police department, was owned by the Mafia. The Mayor, a guy named Addonizio, was finally indicted by the grand jury, after we left the area, on all kinds of charges, including embezzlement, racketeering, conspiracy to do everything, bribery, fraud, extortion, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum…

Those black people that Saturday morning thought enough of me to lay it out for me in no uncertain terms.  They themselves had suffered through all kinds of intimidation and abuse (economically, morally, emotionally, etc.) at the hands of officialdom, and they were fed up!  And this had been going on for decades! I found myself almost at the point of totally identifying with their side of things…And when the shooting started…there were many, many instances of over-reaction by the city officials, and people on both sides died in the streets. It was mainly people against property, but human beings did get caught in the middle, and there was no hesitation in gunning them down. Mom and I could hear through the open window at night, in Montclair that summer – gun shots, sirens, etc. – and we could see the smoke from the burning buildings during the day.

At any rate, in the spring of 1967 I more or less had to take the job at the big white Anglo church in Montclair as an associate pastor. When the riots broke out that summer I found myself in one heck of a bind: I knew why the blacks had rioted, and I didn’t blame them in many ways; but the uptight whites around me were incensed, some of them at me whenever I just slightly hinted that there might actually be reasons for what was happening. I did round up a group of people in that church to load up a caravan of station wagons to run food in to one of the Newark Presbyterian churches to feed those who had gotten pinned down in their apartments and housing projects and couldn’t get out to go shopping for food – these were not necessarily participants in the hostilities, mostly old people, mothers, and children. But our church in Montclair lost several major families over what we did. One man called me up one day and cussed me all over the place for running food down there to feed those “damned nigger criminals”. The white backlash was, believe me, scary! But when outrage builds and builds and builds for many, many years, it has to break out. You can’t plug volcanoes to stop them from erupting. The super heated magma is going to go someplace, regardless.

During the fall of 1967 and into 1968 and ’69 there were a lot of serious and sincere efforts from both sides to reconcile, and a lot of good, productive bridges were in fact built. But scary! Incredibly so….

The only way I have ever been able to do anything in the direction of civil rights is to go out of my way to make friends with some black person or persons, and let it be known that if any trouble started I at least wanted some of us on both sides to remain in a talking relationship so there could at least be a line of communication somewhere that could be trusted. This has been pretty productive in several instances, even here in little Seaford. Trust is the issue, I think. But it’s got to be wanted and welcomed on both sides….

I can’t believe I’ve gone on like this! Obviously that period of life was what they call a “significant emotional experience” for me. I don’t know if any of this rambling is of any use to you, but I’ve found it exciting to struggle with it in retrospect after all these years…

Yes, Dad. I think it’s of great use to me, and great use to a lot of people right now. Thank you for doing what you did. Thank you for writing this to me. I’mma share it with the internet now, ‘kay?

Everyday Self-Care

So I have a cold.

I have two lovely friends and I love their theories. Rachel thinks that my stress levels are dropping, so the indulgence of a cold is now allowable. Pam thinks that the reason I was a whirling dervish this past weekend is because my body knew the cold was coming on, and I laid in all the infrastructure to take care of myself easily and ahead of time.

I’ll take one of each, please.

I dosed myself with cold meds last night and today. I was able to take a walk (knee much better!) and buy a cell-signal-booster thing at Radio Shack. In this sort-of-basement apartment, my signal is lousy, and I got clearance from IT to purchase this thing. Tomorrow will be about actually installing it.

And I went back to yoga for the first time in about a month. Tuesdays and Thursdays are “gentle yoga” days at the local Y. It was the perfect challenge for my knee – not too intense, just enough to strengthen. On the way back to my apartment, I saw this:

Peacocks in the tree

Two peacocks (probably a cock and a hen) in a tree. The Y is across the street from the Staten Island Zoo. The peacocks’ mating cries are the soundtrack to our yoga sessions in the spring.

I came home and iced my knee, and made myself a lovely dinner: a flatbread with the last of the pears from Bernardo’s backyard, and some Wensleydale with apricots melted on. And some of the spinach I cooked on Sunday.


With some Trebbiano, it is DIVINE.

Going Full Martha

I’m trying to set up a schedule for regular cooking and cleaning. Who better to consult than Martha Stewart, who plans everything daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally?

So Saturday I did a big clean – combining seasonal, monthly, weekly, and daily. I was at it for about 7 hours – and this is a small space! But I moved furniture to vacuum, dust and mop. I cleaned windows (which, if you live on a main traffic artery, get…absolutely MUDDY, no lie). I wiped down Venetian blinds, cleared out my kitchen cabinets and wiped the shelves down, cleaned the refrigerator and freezer. I vacuumed upholstery and throw pillows. I took down the two light fixtures in this place and cleaned them, and swapped out the bulbs for eco-friendly ones (also so much brighter!).

I slept very well.

Sunday I did a food shop. I borrowed Bernardo’s car and ran down to Gerardi’s, our farmer’s market run by a lovely family from New Jersey who grows a lot of what they sell, and sources the rest as locally as they can. I got local eggs and butter, as well as beets (I gave the actual roots to Bernardo; I prefer the greens), spinach, onions, beefsteak tomatoes, basil, acorn squash, local corn, and decorative squashes. Then I ran to Met, which is a franchise run by a Staten Island Italian family that literally stocks EVERYTHING, and got soup greens, a large turkey leg, and some staples. Got a case of Trebbiano and Montepulciano at our wine shop, and a baguette and some chocolate lace cookies from our local bakery.

And came home and cooked.

I started with the veg. Reading this book has given me a lot of ideas (and I’m not even done with it yet). I sautéed the spinach with garlic and olive oil; I removed the spinach, kept the garlic in the pan, added some more oil, and sautéed the beet greens. I divided these into small portions and froze them.

I had some limp baby peppers and leftover mushrooms, so I sautéed those with some onion, and through THAT into individual-sized containers to freeze.

I soaked black beans and kidney beans, and put them into Ziploc bags in individual portions, and into the freezer they went.

I roasted two ears of corn, which turned into 3 servings of cut corn – which of course I froze in individual portions in Ziplocs.

I roasted an acorn squash – which turned into 4 servings, which I (all together now!) froze in individual portions in Ziplocs.

I made a stock with the turkey leg and soup greens, as well as the skeleton of a rotisserie chicken I had in the freezer.

I had some bread in the freezer that was on the verge of freezer-burn, so I turned that into croutons and made a stuffing with celery, onions, mushrooms, and some dried sausage.

It was also time to cook the ground turkey Bernardo had got for me a few weeks ago, so I made Swedish turkey meatballs (I know, Swedes recoil in horror). (And froze 2/3 of them.)

I’ve also had a craving for tomato soup, so I made a big batch of that and froze half of it for pasta fagiole later this week.

I had a chicken breast on the bone in the freezer in danger of drying out, so I poached it and made a lovely chicken salad with tarragon, white onion and celery. Lunch!

I made deep chocolate ice cream with many of the egg yolks; I made an egg white frittata with greens, mushrooms and goat cheese. I made polenta.

This should keep me for at least 2 weeks, possibly the entire month with the occasional meat/fish supplement. I find that since I’ve moved, I’m eating a LOT less meat than I used to. And I still have scallops, a beef pot pie, and moussaka in the freezer for variation as well.

My Grandmothers’ Plates

Today was Wall Day. I didn’t realize it when I woke up, but that’s how it turned out.

I’d ordered a bunch of stuff from Amazon – housewares, decor. But I’d also brought over all these plates from Bernardo’s house. My paternal grandmother would buy plain white ceramic and paint it – I have 10 of her plates. My maternal grandmother (and her mother, and her mother’s mother) has passed down a set of commemorative plates from WWII London – major London landmarks (and I think everyone knows how much I love this city – it is my favorite in the world).

So after I’d unpacked all the Amazon things and put them where they wanted to be (and it’s always a question – your stuff has to be comfortable next to your other stuff, and I am a firm believer in furniture making friends with other decor and appliances), and run a bunch of errands, I decided all the plates were going on all the walls today.

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Those are the London plates. They occupy either side of my main living room window.

Then there are some of the plates my father’s mother painted:


And the “dining room” – a little table where two people can eat:


Most of what I received from Amazon today was for my kitchen, which remains stubbornly cream-colored with red accents, no matter what I do:

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You can see how small it is, but it is fully equipped to provide phenomenal things (my gelato is to die for – I had some this afternoon after my errands and it was amazing).

I’m getting pretty happy with the place. More deliveries (for bed and bath) ensue this week, and there’s a console table coming as well. “Pleased” is a very good way to end a day, I think.

Learning How To Be

One thing I have discovered about being A Person Who Lives Alone is that…figuring out meals is extremely weird.

You’re only feeding yourself. But you don’t want to eat crap, you don’t want to serve your body badly. You want to be kind, you want things to taste good, and when you’re only cooking for one (and you are accustomed to cooking for many), this can be a little challenging.

This is why I have not beat myself up over tossing out leftovers I’m sick of looking at. But I do take notice.

I am also a small person. My appetite, as I get older, has diminished to a ridiculous level. I think of the pictures of Agatha Christie that I used to goggle at as a teenager. As a young woman, slender; as a middle-aged woman, robust and stout; as an old woman, slender again. You just don’t eat as many calories after a certain point.

Obviously I do what I’ve always done (Hermione-style!) and FIND BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT. But also, just in living, I am discovering things. Vegetables are good marinated and they keep a long time and they retain vitamins. If you find yourself with too many eggs, make ice cream because at least you can freeze it. One Seamless meal usually equals 2 regular meals, and possibly 3. OF COURSE YOU CAN’T EAT A WHOLE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN BY YOURSELF, YOU CRAZY WOMAN, so freeze whatever you’re done with, and make a good broth later. What goes in a salad? (I still haven’t figured that one out for myself.)

Living outside of someone else’s expectations of How Things Should Be is unnerving. But of course every day is an object lesson in that.

Head, Shoulders, Knees – oh, wait

I usually try to get in 3 miles a day walking in either Clove Lakes Park or Snug Harbor. In addition to the 2 miles per day running errands/doing housework/living, it adds up and keeps my weight down and my spirits up.

I appear to have re-injured myself last week, though. In 2004, I took a tumble on an icy East Coast ski slope and tore my ACL. The shock was immediate; I couldn’t walk, I had to be transported down the hill by a stretcher-sled, I was in the ER immediately while shaking.

This was a bit different. I wear sturdy shoes for my long walks. They are a bit heavy. It seems that the lower half of my right leg went one way and the upper half went the opposite way, and my knee caught the brunt of it. Already weakened (despite reparative surgery), it seems to have gradually given up the ghost. By Saturday night, I was wakeful, feeling it swell up as I slept. By this morning, I knew I had to go to the emergency room.

Thankfully, it is a holiday weekend and people seem to be having emergencies elsewhere. I was in and out in record time – X-Ray, splint (oh, how familiar), and- instead of crutches – a cane. So it’s not as serious as it was in 2004. With luck I won’t need surgery.

Bernardo, God love him, drove me to the hospital and back. He made me a wonderful lunch at his place, and drove me back to my apartment. I rested all afternoon, watching the rest of Miranda. I fixed myself a nice dinner of rotisserie chicken, creamy polenta, and English peas, with a lovely Indaba sauvignon blanc.

Fortunately, I had placed orders at both Peapod and FreshDirect, so I have PLENTY of food. I’m well-fixed for kombucha and seltzer and wine, caviar, cheese, bread (I know). So this convalescence won’t be half-bad. The splint is marvelous; with the cane, I can manage to get around fairly well without much pain. The shock has worn off (there’s always shock when you have internal bleeding, which this was, apparently), and I’ll have a nice bath with my bath bombs, and go to bed early.

Some Nights

Some nights I stay up/Cashing in my bad luck/Some nights I call it a draw – fun.

My sleep patterns have been odd. 11 hours one night, 7 the next. This tells me I have a way to go before I’m better.

It’s also a challenge to figure out How To Be. When you’re co-habiting, it’s kind of easy – you’re the other one. When you’re on your own, you…don’t have guidelines or expectations. Which could be blissful. But it could be scary.

What does a salad mean? Do I even want a salad? What’s lunch? What’s breakfast, for that matter? How much is too much? What if I want to spend the evening curled up in a chair, binge-watching “Call the Midwife”? When do I take out the trash? What’s worth getting outraged about?

I’m literally having to rebuild myself. It’s good work, but disorienting. There are three constants in my life right now: work from 9-5 (I’m keeping that clock religiously); my walk from 5-6ish-whatever; and God love her, the nearly constant communication with my best friend Rachel.

I don’t even know what to eat. Today I think I had mostly cheese.

Re-defining a relationship is hard, too. I’ve never been good with boundaries, which is why I’m in the predicament I’m in. I have a VERY hard time saying no to people I love. So tonight I spent the evening working, dwelling, ordering sushi, marinating in questions that are Hard For Me.

Marinating is important, I’ve realized. I’ve accepted its place in work. I’m learning to accept its place in life. As I rebuild, I have to re-invent my nights. I know from folks in recovery that nights are the hardest – my recovery’s a little different, but many issues are the same. Thank God for the Web. Actually, thank Tim Berners-Lee. There’s always company when there’s the Web.

Domestic Bliss

I slept late this morning. Till 10 – it’s been an age since I’ve done that.

Then I had coffee and breakfast and read the news until about noon. And then the cleaning began again.

My Dyson is lovely; the allergy/asthma attachments are amazing. I also love my Swiffer duster and mop. I cleaned the place in about 45 minutes; I love having such a small space to worry about.

And then cooking.

I made chicken stock. Then a white bean and leek soup. A bolognese. I froze extra beans for later. I made polenta for my breakfast this week, and a cherry tomato sauce to go on top. I made green juice, and pineapple/peach juice.

Later this week I will make chocolate ice cream, and an angel food cake. But for now, this is enough. I went to Bernardo’s for a glass of wine and a dunk in the pool, and a visit with his older daughter. Today was quite lovely, quite ordinary. I do love ordinary time. It’s very comforting.

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