Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's a Pottery Barn life

It is my opinion that everyone has at least one thing they covet from Pottery Barn.

In fact, even though all those sports stars say they're going to Disneyland, I think, deep inside in a place they don't share with others, they're thinking, "I'm going to buy the Sutter Hand Painted Secretary from"

As ubiquitous in the mail as the Victoria's Secret catalog used to be (see my earlier musings on shopping and porn), Pottery Barn publications are often thick, always glossy, seemingly seasonal, and endlessly compelling.  Not to mention redundant, because those smart marketers change only the cover and the first few pages.  The rest is exactly the same as the one you got last week.

But I fall for it.  It's the thickness that gets me.  The dense weightiness that's almost like a magazine.  That triggers the same anticipation as a new VOGUE.  I want to get inside, make some tea, and settle in for some....what?

Material voyeurism?  Fantasies about the life I could have or the person I'd be if only I had the Capitola Trunk or the Terrace Mirrored Buffet?  Visions of washing my face over the Classic Sink Console (in white with the Carrara marble top and Satin Nickel hardware) or sinking deep into the Mackenzie Sleigh bed at the end of the day?

All of the above, thank you.

Is that so wrong?  Isn't that our cultural mandate?  To be always desirous, striving, reaching?

Supposedly that's what keeps the economy going.  Gotta stay hungry people. Terrorist attack, get a little spendy.  Buy, buy, buy.  

Yet money and acquisition, at this time in our lives, seem dicey drivers.  What do we really want from Pottery Barn?

Safety, baby.  A plushy soft place to fall.   Come inside, shut the door, light some candles, plump some pillows, and fall asleep.

Sleep.  It's better than being awake.  I think that's the Pottery Barn promise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Back and cautious

I've been away and not with Colin Firth to Cypress.  To NY and then a week of having forgot my password to log in here.

La de dah.

So, lots doing, right?  Barack Obama.  Oh yes we can.  I was in NY before the election and my 6 year old niece mentioned they'd had an election at school and, despite her having voted for McCain (!), Obama won.  I think that should be one of those measures pundits use -- Primrose School shows 87% for Obama among first and second graders.

I am delighted.  But also reserved.  I went all out for Clinton in his first go round, believed the message, swayed to Fleetwood Mac, and anticipated change.  Out of the gate with "don't ask, don't tell" he let me down.  And I've never recovered.  Wondering if BO will be able to keep his integrity once he's actually in the snake pit.  Will he be able to hold to the identity that so many of us fell in love with?

I worry, people.  

Heartbroken in LA:  California voters passed Prop 8, banning same-sex marriage in the state.  How can this be?  Solidly blue and iconoclastic, yet California showed a surprising true color last week.  Clearly, I think, it wasn't about denying legal rights as much as it was about "don't call it marriage."  Either way, though, it's 2008.  Can the Mormon church really pump millions into our political consciousness and have us lose our minds?  I guess so...

I have gay friends whom I love.  Love.  Glorious people who now cannot marry or legalize their lives together, some after 20 years.  Why?

Seriously.  Why?  My feelings run deep, I worked with patients in the early days of AIDS, watching people die alone because their loved ones were barred by the hospital or hostile family members.  I'll never forget it.  

Marriage shmarriage -- I want my friends to come into the circle.  Fringe living should not be what we're about.

Not today.  Not in America.  Not when so many of us have said yes we can...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Breakfast with my mother

People often ask me, "Caroline, what is it about the baking?"  They want to know is it the science, the precision, the accolades for each delicious thing that comes from my kitchen.  Yes.  It's all of those things, but mostly -- it's breakfast with my mother.

This morning, I made -- resisting saying "whipped up" -- a batch of cranberry-orange scones.  I've made these scones hundreds of times.  I don't need the recipe, I just start doing:  The yellow Pyrex bowl that is that last of my mom's set.  The tin measuring cups we used to make cookies at Christmas.  Cutting a cold stick of butter from memory, into thirds, first long way, then short way, then chopping.  Scattering the butter over the dry ingredients and working it in with my fingers -- exactly the way my mother showed me, which is exactly the way her mother showed her.  Mom felt doing this by hand made for flakier scones, biscuits and pie dough -- it also, she said, put some extra love in the recipe.

When I bake, my mother, her mother and my Grandma Siemers, all come into the kitchen.  In my pans and bowls, my spoons and spatulas, in the glass measuring cup with the measures so faded they can't be read.  These baking women are in everything I make and how I make it, whether their recipes (Pulla, strudel, prune tarts) or mine.

I shared many things with my mom, but nothing so tactile and nostalgic as baking.  She's gone nearly 20 years now, but when I want to spend time with her, I pull down a bowl and start measuring flour.  And she's right there, leaning over my shoulder, showing me a better way to sift the flour or knead the dough.

I'm a baking woman. I come from baking women.  My sister-in-law is a baking woman, my niece (and nephew) are little bakers.  It's a legacy I cherish,  it keeps me close to home.

The scones are warm, fragrant with orange, running with butter.  A pot of Earl Grey sits beside.  My mom's chair is empty, but she's here.  And thinking I should have used less sugar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The valley of the shadow of success

Who doesn't feel the lure of the small town?  I hear it in the early morning, underneath the nearby freeway, garbage trucks, and construction equipment.  I hear it at 4:30 on the 405.  I hear it when all roads to nature involve noise, cars, people and congestion.

I love a small town.  A single blinking 4-way, small businesses lining quaint blocks, the diner where the waitresses know everyone and call you "hon," the library with its story lady and clusters of schoolchildren, neighbors who know you by name.  

I've lived in cities most of my adult life (Boston, New York, Los Angeles) and have rarely known my neighbors.  Even now, I've lived in this building for 12 years and only recently started talking to the people around me.  Part of me really loves anonymity, the going about of my own business without accountability for my routine.  

I hate the idea of people all up in your business.  In fact, I hate it so much, the most successful relationship of my life was with a man living 3,000 miles away.  All the time in the world for me without having to really accommodate someone else.  (I grew up with a father who was all about the crowding, so I've swung perhaps a little far the other way...)

So it's with a certain amount of startle that I realize not only do I want a quieter life, but I want one of greater community and connectedness, I want people around me to know me, to stop me in the street, to pop over.  (OK, maybe not pop over, but you know, be within calling distance of coming by.)

This is the biggest question of the past few months:  How do I change my life?  How do I shift my focus from work/career (the centerpiece of my life for 24 years) to family/friends/relationships/meaning/home?  How do I make work the snapshot in the frame of my life instead of the picture in the middle?

I read stories about this in More and O, but they seem to always leap from "I was a big city book editor and now I raise chickens" without dwelling on the messiness of, "So all I had was $13K in the bank and no idea of employment, but I made the leap, and for the first six months it was very messy, but then things started to turn around and suddenly I had blue ribbon chickens and a new life."  

It's the valley of the shadow of these successes that I want to know about.  Leaps of faith I can get behind, I guess what I really want, though, is an informed leap.

I hear my town a-callin' -- how do I answer?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mon Day

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day....

Never liked Mondays, likely never will.  A very good friend's husband got over the hump by referring to it as "Mon Day."  He shows up, but doesn't have to take meetings, make calls or do business.  This is his day.

And so, a bit of a non-post today as I'm enjoying Mon Day.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day of rest

Sunday is a day off.  Instead, there will be something from someone else:  A poem, a link, a quote, a post from a friend.  Anything I feel moved  to share.

Enjoy the day.

my father was not in the telephone book
in my city;
my father was not sleeping with my mother 
at home;
my father did not care if I studied the
my father did not care what I
and I thought my father was handsome and I loved him and I wondered
he left me alone so much
so many years
in fact, but
my father
made me what I am
a lonely woman
without purpose, just as I was
a lonely child
without a father.  I walked with words, words, words, and names,
names.  Father was not
one of my words.
Father was not
one of my names.

from The Father of My Country

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dub's just a lonely boy...

Ask anyone.  I am not political.  Opinionated, sure; liberalish, of course; but political, not really.  Yet I have consistently loathed George Bush.  First because he was the father's son, second because he says "nucular" and commits endless other crimes against the English language (poor speaking habits generally lead to loathing with me), and finally because he has, seemingly single-handedly, ruined this country.

Then I saw "W."  

Ask anyone.  I'm not typically down with Mr. Oliver Stone -- he's got a something going on there that just doesn't resonate with me.  I hadn't planned to see W, feeling that the trailers were so assaultive, the movie itself would be relentless.  But then a friend called and I wasn't busy, it was nearby, there was reserved seating, so OK.

I'd expected to feel a lot of things:  Anger, disgust, outrage, shame.  The usual.  Which I did.  But what I hadn't expected to feel was pity.  Or compassion. Or to shed an actual tear. 

Yes, it's just a movie.  But it's an Oliver Stone movie, so aren't we supposed to accept it as defacto fact?  

I'd always assumed Bush was an idiot:  Evil, self-centered, reckless, out of touch.  Now I wonder if, well, if I was wrong.  

I wonder if -- could it be -- that G.W. is really just not smart?  I kinda thought he knew better and just didn't care, but what if that's not so?  What if he's really just not smart?  An eager to please lap-boy marching to the beat of those around him, those who actually are evil, self-centered and reckless?  

It surprised me to find the film, nee the character, so poignant.  And while it doesn't change what he's done, the mistakes, the lies, the ruination, it does affect me.  

Because compassion is always good, right?  Accepting that there might be reasons?  Not justifications, but, you know, causes?  That no one is completely evil (except Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld)?  Counts for something, right?

Maybe it doesn't.  All I know is I had one of those disapproving fathers, I know what it's like to want to get that pat on the head.  Thankfully, I've never had to play out that drama on a global stage.   I've been able to mess up, hurt people and behave badly in relative anonymity.

W-ever.  See the movie, see what you think.  For me, I've got a little more compassion and that feels good.  But make no mistake:  I am counting the days until January.

Guaranteed genuine authentic

What is it about QVC?  If I channel surf and QVC is pitching jewelry, I will stop.  And watch.  For up to 20 minutes, in a hypnotic state.

I don't buy.  I don't want to buy.  I just want to watch.  The hostesses with their beautiful manicures, the shiny baubles, all those Diamonels, Diamoniques, Diamonesques....lovely.  

I'm reminded of a gent friend who feels similarly about online porn.  He doesn't want to buy, just wants to watch.  In the same sort of hypnotic state.

I don't know enough about brain waves or neural pathways to understand exactly what is happening when I see Joan Rivers or the spokesman for Kenneth Jay Lane -- but it's something akin to balmy.

You get a sense of life going on.  My friend may feel "well, someone's having sex somewhere"and it's soothing, all's right in the world, people are having sex and I'm watching it, so for now, that's what's going on.  (That what he's seeing is really one step removed from people actually having sex (or, more clearly, having a genuine intimate connection) is another matter -- or not, maybe online sex is the same thing as a QVC knock-off of a Cartier necklace.  An engaging representation of the real thing.)  

Anyway, when I watch QVC, jewelry becomes the center of the world.  There's nothing else, just the genuine, authentic, Asian inspired replication of whatever Marie Antoinette wore to the guillotine.

And in a way, that's what I mean.  The focus, for that 20 minutes, is on only what Marie wore, not where she was headed. (slight pun there)  And so it is for me:  When the entire frame is the Jacqueline Kennedy Reproduction 5th Avenue Status necklace (oval textured links with textured graduated beads highlight this stunning goldtone necklace...), how bad can things actually be?

Wouldn't it be great if everything came in our choice of colors in three easy payments?  When you feel, as I often do, that the paying never stops, 20 minutes of accessible glitz is really really helpful.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Modern Life

I was in the acupuncturist's office the other day, waiting for the weekly treatment that is designed to unblock stagnant energy and help me sleep.  On the table was the clicker we're given after the needles are inserted and we are meant to meditate for 30 minutes.  The clicker is, essentially, the panic button, what you press if you are overwhelmed, scared or concerned.  

Printed on the clicker were the words, Modern Life.

Indeed.  It does seem to me that the need to scream for help has become a sort of thing these days.   In my parent's day, it seemed people were expected to be more self-sufficient.  Their post-war ethos was one of great opportunity that was there for the taking.  Take it, grab it with both hands, but know you are then responsible for it.  Both of my parents had a great sense of personal responsibility that manifested in hard work and self-sufficiency.

In our more modern hands, this can morph into a great sense of personal culpability.  We seem to have lost the creative part of opportunity and made hay only of the responsibility part. Which leads to overwhelm, a spike in the self-help book business, and the desire to turn it all outward:  Blame, blame, blame.

I hate to be topical, but this current financial situation is not the result of sisters doing it for themselves.  This is personal responsibility gone on vacation and "me me me, now now now" coming to stay.  It's only disguised as finances.

No wonder we want a panic button!  We are drowning in wants, ignorant of true needs, blaming "them" and screaming for help.  I get it -- as I've said, rescue is a favorite fantasy.

It's just that I pictured Prince Charming, not Henry Paulson.  Or any of the other aging white men out there to help, none with the stones to call it:  We live beyond our means.  

Add the war, the endless pointless war, employment stats, housing issues, the election, few suitable men available for dating in Los Angeles....the temptation is strong to put Dr. Lu's clicker in my pocket, take it home, and save it for just in case.

The problem is:  Who's listening?  Who's going to respond to that call?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Decisions, part deux

I'm involved in a program that asks us to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God" -- and I'm trying, swear to G*d, I'm trying -- but I'm not sure I know what that looks like.  What activities are involved?  Passive waiting for a beam of light seems wrong.  As does tip-toeing around listening for that "still small voice."  At the end of the day, I feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark hoping I bump into something that's right for me.

How do people do it?  I'm reading Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit, and drooling with envy over how she knew, so young, exactly what she wanted to do. And did it.

I feel like I've never known.  Or maybe I do, but the voices of dissent are so fast and sure that anything that comes up is shot down before it has a chance to breathe.  For example:

April: What do I love?  Baking!  Always wanted to open a bakery.  In Rhinebeck.  Culinary school!  Apply to the CIA in Napa, get some credentials, move back east, open the bakery!  (clock ticking, calendar pages turning)  Wait a minute -- I'll be leaving school with debt and no guarantee of work.  Maybe I should hold off until this becomes more clear.... August:  I really miss my family and friends, I'm tired of Los Angeles, I should just go back home, get a cute place in Rhinebeck, be where I want to be, leap of faith and all that.  I can always go to the CIA in Hyde Park....but wait, shouldn't I have a job before making the leap?  Yes, I think....September:  Attend business planning workshop.  Brilliant!  Inspired, energized, motivated, I will make a product out of my business know-how, seasonal, work only a few months per year and have time to pursue baking....wait, this will take time to develop....October:  I know!  I'll work some more, just until.

And the ancient calliope starts to turn once again.  

Here's the secret:  Just until never comes, baby.  Just ask the gerbil in the wheel -- the only way to change is to jump off.  And I'm inching towards the edge of the high dive.  I really am.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Captain Von "Trap"

The nice thing about working less is having plenty of time to think. The hideous thing about working less is having plenty of time to think.

All this thinking leads to insights which, ideally, lead to action.

And "action" is where the trouble starts. Always has been. The argument between my will and that of some other authoritative power that is supposed to have the plan. See, action involves making a decision and decisions are what I most want to avoid. Although I didn't know this. Until I took leave. And all the thinking.

I'd always thought of myself as a keen decision-maker. Certainly in business I'm known for a particular cut-to-the chase decisiveness, I just assumed it carried over to the rest of my life. Over the years I've felt myself saying this job, this guy, this city, this hat. And moving forward. Yet now, today, I look back on all that and see, OK, a thread, but not necessarily a purposeful picture.

A sneaking suspicion arises -- that I do not want to make decisions at all. Followed by an insight -- that I'm translating (at a furious pace, too), all notions of God, Universe, HIgher Power, Spontaneity (etc.), into a "rescue me" fantasy of fantastic proportion.

I blame Captain von Trapp. Of course it's a man, all of us of a certain generation (despite our rap) want the handsome hero to solve it all. I was swept away, as a child, by Captain VTs handsomeness, authority, derring-do and how he made Maria's life just by loving her. It's a tough image to live up to (and no man has, yet), and an embarrassing one to hold. Yet, there it is: I'm still sort of hoping (reluctant to say "waiting") for my version to come along and make the decision for me.

I know. Shocking. Yet I am addicted to the idea that there is something special for me to do, a right path, and I need only be open enough or willing enough or patient enough, and it will reveal itself to me.