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Archive for the category “The Soul”

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:

IMG_0363        IMG_0329     IMG_0378

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

IMG_0357 (1) IMG_0350 IMG_0109

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.

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.

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.

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.

All Manner of Thing

I keep going back to Julian of Norwich‘s revelation, which was popularized by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets. Or, as my mother says, “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Today was very okay.

I purchased housewares. I love housewares. I love setting up a place with a combination of new things and old things I love. I’m really following Marie Kondo‘s principles: if I don’t love it, OUT IT GOES. That’s a great place to start when setting up a new household.

I’m also not investing that much in “pieces” right now. I suspect I’ll be moving again in several months, just because this is not necessarily a fit place for wintering. (I mean, it could be – but I might rather not find out. We shall see.) So no photos for now. I’m not doing window treatments or anything else till I know I’m in a more permanent spot.

But it’s beautiful and I love it. And after all that work, I went over to the house and Bernardo made an amazing dinner of balsamic-encrusted London broil with a lovely salad, and a brown rice that he’d cooked with chicken broth and sautéed green pepper.

Tomorrow I receive a grocery delivery, and go back to the house to retrieve some things. And then I focus on setting up the audio system with the TV and the Apple TV, tying up boxes, and continuing to make my environment peaceful.

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching


I bruise like an overripe peach. Thanks to this move, I am covered with them – little ones on my legs and the inside of my arms, a HUGE one on my upper left arm near my shoulder. I wear these like badges. Full-contact moving, as Brian O’Leary says. I seem to do everything full-contact.

I’m nearly done. I think I’ll finish most of it tomorrow. And then Bernardo and I will have to figure out our new routine – when I’ll be over for dinner; when we’ll have nights to ourselves. But we did this in Brooklyn for many years. I think we’ll be okay.

So onward. Bernardo came over tonight to do some emergency repairs on my windows. Things are all open now, and I can breathe better. Me and my bruises will be going to yoga soon. And I can’t wait.

My Own Bed

I thought I was too tired to blog tonight. But I was wrong.

We moved the heavy stuff today. Bernardo “hired” the son of one of our friends, who then refused payment. I was so touched at all his efforts; he’d helped his step-grandmother move the day before. And he’s the sort of kid who doesn’t distinguish step- vs. blood. It’s all family. It’s all ohana. His parents are both like that, which is why we are all so close.

I spent the afternoon and evening putting a bed together. I’ve never had a proper bed of my own before. I had futons before I married, and when I got divorced I returned to futons because I was conserving space; my kids got the beds. (When they were with their dad, I slept in the beds, but that’s not the same as having your Own Bed.) Then I moved in with Bernardo and shared his, and bunked off to the spare bedroom when my asthma and menopause came on and turned me into a midnight rotisserie.

Now I have a proper bed. Soon I will have a proper bath to soak my back and knee. It’s cool and dry here, and I’ve made sure it’s as dust-free as possible (thank you, James Dyson); it’s only a couple of degrees higher than it would be if I had AC, and of course we’re coming into nighttime. Tomorrow we’ll continue to continue – Bernardo will install the AC, the Bose systems, the TV, the AppleTV. I’ll put the kitchen, bath, and closet together. I am very bruised; I look like an apple that’s been kicked around. I kind of don’t want to go to yoga until some of these clear up.

But it’s all good. All is well. All manner of things will be well. And I think Bernardo and I love each other more than ever. Love is so very precious. It is the best thing we humans have going for us.


On days like today, my lungs slowly turn into wet cement bags and my trachea swells up so much that it pushes against my esophagus and I develop a gaggy cough. It is 90-something and New York City humid, and has been for the last three days. I finally capitulated to my need for oxygen and turned on the air conditioning.

My new place is cool and dry. It’s a sunken first-floor apartment – up to its eyeball-windows in cool, cool dirt. While I am getting an air conditioner for days like today, I scarcely need one, so the bill will be low. And it’s dry. An oscillating fan should do most of the heavy lifting.

The predictable things are happening – I had to run to Ikea to exchange a bed (the picker had given me full- instead of queen-size), and the air conditioner I DID order turned out to be the wrong sort. I regret to say I am relying on Amazon for much of this move (I know, I know, I’m sorry) – part of its devilishness is that it makes things SO DAMN EASY for its customers. Yes, I read the New York Times article. I read the articles in response to the New York Times article. I have previously read Hamilton Nolan’s articles on Gawker about warehouse workers.

And yet. I fall onto the path of least resistance and compromise my conscience because I am In A Hurry. Tomorrow is moving day.

Bernardo has lined up the 22-year-old son of our friend Kim, and I’ve hired the van (again). Tomorrow all my books, clothing, and furniture will zip around the corner. Smaller things will come in dribs and drabs as time goes on.

Bernardo explained to John, Kim’s husband and Bernardo’s best friend, that we weren’t breaking up, but that I really needed “space”. That’s true enough – but in terms of square feet I’m trading a three bedroom house with a finished attic and basement for a two room apartment – with a kitchen the size of an iPhone, and a bathroom. It’s less about physical space and more about emotional and psychological space…and autonomy. When you live with someone who has tremendous needs like Gina does, you don’t get much autonomy. (Bernardo’s not taken a proper, Gina-free vacation since 2008. In ten years, he’s spent one night away, while I stayed with Gina. But Gina is also a massive source of anxiety for me, in ways that – because he’s her father – Bernardo doesn’t feel so much.

I consider us all a family. I still feel strongly that I am Gina’s stepmother. But the notion of “family” is a fluid thing. In the eternal words of Lilo, “Ohana means family. And family means nobody gets left behind.” Including me.

The Meaning in Small Things

I think that, at times of great transition, we see a lot of meaning in small things.

I’m honoring this transition with a full week’s vacation to get everything done. It’s a way of saying to myself: “This is real. This is happening. This is important. YOU are important.” Women almost never do this. We squeeze in self-care. A mani here, a pedi there.

Mani-pedis are not self-care. A small part of self-care is self-indulgence, sure. And being aesthetically pleasing to ourselves is healthy. And I’ll get one after everything’s moved in and set up. But that’s different from saying to yourself, “What you’re going through right now is big, and even you will respect that.” Because we minimize our needs, and our desires, to privilege those of our kids, our partners, our partners’ kids, our bosses, our colleagues.

And yeah, this has been written about ad nauseum. But respecting ourselves and addressing what’s not working is the LAST thing we do, and the reason it’s been written about ad nauseum is because even feminists can’t always internalize the message. There’s too much around us to pull us off the path, too many hyperactive wolves pleading with Red Riding Hood to “pay attention to meeeeeeeee”.

And it’s not about deserving. I actually don’t really believe in deserving – with the exception of “I worked really hard today, I deserve pizza”. But in general, I don’t think anyone deserves anything. Wealthy people certainly don’t deserve their wealth. Poor people don’t deserve their poverty. I don’t think that looking at a problem through the lens of just deserts is a helpful way to go about things.

But I believe in self-preservation. I believe in self-respect. I believe in dealing with oneself deliberately, and not spending time with what doesn’t add grace to our lives.

Today I did the ritual clean-out. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it, but it is a way of taking ownership of my space. I clean off the previous tenant’s residue, and lay down my own personality. I scrubbed every surface. I vacuumed with my new teeny Dyson, mopped with the Swiffer I bought my kid years ago that she used once.

And while I was on the phone wrangling with Ikea, I heard a thud from the closet. When the call was over, I went to see what it was – the Dyson had keeled over, and the little canister had opened, dumping onto the floor everything I had swept up.

“Oh,” I thought, “I’ll just get the broom and sweep that up.”

But the dirt was so fine. It was DUST. And the broom just combed through it. I had to power up the Dyson and re-sweep it up. And it got every bit (well, granted, I didn’t have a microscope, but I assume if it got it the first time…).

It was a small thing. But it was an affirmation to me. The dust allergy that is largely behind my asthma is going to have a tough time surviving with that thing in the apartment. Sure, we could get a Dyson in the house. But I can’t clean a whole house every couple of days. It would be all I did. That little pile of dust – resulting from two rooms, plus a bathroom and a kitchen – told me I was on the right track.

Tomorrow, the Internet comes to the house. Tomorrow, I drive back to Ikea with the wrong bed parts and exchange them for the right ones. Tomorrow I scrounge some more boxes from someone (maybe even Ikea) and finish packing up my objects and my clothes. Tomorrow we confirm that the kid across the street can help me schlep boxes out of the house and into the home.

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