Friday, 15 October 2010

Acts of God Part II - or not

God did not help intervine. 
Part II takes a raincheck.


The truth is I really suck at making granola bars.  I've have made some 'interesting' batches true.  But not a damn one so far has been called tasty, delicious or even good. 

I have however discovered in the process and dedication to my quest: how to bake a really dense brick that's raw in the middle and burnt on the edges and consequently waste about $10 worth+ of butter, brown sugar, agave syrup, honey, nuts, dried fruit and various grains/oats in a batch.  rrrrrrrrrr.

So we wait for God with our hearts full - knowing brazen acts of defiance and courage are NOT always rewarded in the kitchen and the prudent and the wise stop pretending that they can create a recipe from scratch and maybe stick to writing the story at hand, perhaps with food or cooking involved......but certainly not with a self-published granola bar recipe.  Buy a box and spare yourself.  Oy. 

This failure is only topped by the EXTRAODRINARY 2009 New Year's Eve "I'm going to teach myself to make pierogies flop" that still makes me weep with laughter.  I have never worn so much flour in my life.......................

Monday, 27 September 2010

We're On a Road to Nowhere....

I had this song in my head all day long and I can't quit humming it! Worse things in life than David Byrne so I'll live with it.  I do like the song so no big. But still isn't it funny how some tunes just mysteriously appear? I hadn't heard this song for quite a long while and today it seems I just woke up with it.  Like I had a mental tryst with this ditty overnight and now it sheepishly goes off on it's merry way but not without leaving me with its melody. 

Or maybe I did hear some sort of muzak version and didn't realize it... but I don't think so. I choose to believe that this song came for a reason: mostly that I feel in stasis before this race.  13 days out from the Chicago Marathon and I'm both scared witless and terribly excited.

And I've come to learn that I really don't know the difference between the two.

I also am in that mysterious place known as "TAPER."  I have been told that taper madness strikes during this slowdown phase.  And I think it is so.  I have very little appetite suddenly and after two days of solid rest (an unthinkable 8-9 hours+ each night) I'm wired.  Of course, the added coffee and tea ingested probably helped.  But with that much sleep in my system and no run today, I have reserves.  I am not at all comfortable with this bounty, mind you.  In fact I think I'm headed for trouble because the very thing I don't want to do is think about this next chapter. ANY OF IT. Actually I'm really pissed off to have this hole, this void suddenly to contend with.   I'm bored.  I'm upset. What to do when I so successfully ran from the things that were chasing me all year???? Seriously, I think I've been pushing myself so hard that to stop seems foreign, wrong.  Out of sync.  Because to stop I'm going to have to think about where I'm going. And I still don't really know. 

Am I happy with my lot?  Am I prepared to stand up and tell the truth finally.  To say my marriage is withering into something I'm not really prepared for. That I'm scared to move on but more petrified to stay?  That I miss having a dream. Am I at peace with the fact that my grandmothers are waning as this winter approaches? Who the fuck will I be if my grandmothers aren't here anymore? How can they go on suffering if they stay???  Am I prepared to fight the good fight in this marathon and champion self and will and light and yes even Love's existence itself --- in this mad dash of middle age vigor and vim. To prove what?  That I'm not dead, I only feel that way sometimes.  That I didn't have a baby (greatest sin) and I'm a failure except for this. (If this is really going to be a redemption story.) That I desperately am afraid to stop. BECAUSE TO STOP means feeling.  Just stop. Stop. Stop running, stop pretending, stop lying, stop trying, stop everything but sitting with this monstrous reality of myself and just be.

Yes, Virginia, these thoughts sucks ass.  No two ways about it.   

But I suppose this quest is worthy of some pondering.  Some soul searching.  And yes even a tear or two.

So I sit here with my cat on my lap purring, realizing that this moment -- like all others before it will pass.  And maybe the best thing to do is get acquainted with all the nasty little bits of me that I've been running from so I can finish this race with the best parts of me intact and the rest integrated. 

So yes my shadows can come along too because by hell or high water, we're all going to cross that finish line one day.  Why not for this race?  Get a'packing troups:  we're on a road to nowhere............

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Baby/Baked Pasta Exchange (BAKED ZITI)

Okay, so I made a lot of meat sauce- if you read the last blog.

I was in a sentimental way and when I am like that watch out; you're going to get fed.  Again, I repeat.  My hunger the last three days: TERRIFIC.  This is insane.  All I can do is taste the cool in the air and my body is screaming for starch.  Warm.   Hot.  Filling.  ME WANT FOOD NOW.  That is the constant roar in my ears.  Insatiable.   More to do with mental hunger I think than this physical one that seems to be rearing it's head.   But yes, there is a need to feed and be fed playing out.  What to do but roll with it.

Worse (or better) depending on your mood: it's cool enough these evenings to run a stove and right now while I type a batch of homemade granola bars is filling the house with the wicked stench of butter, oats, brown sugar and cranberries.  It's smells like a big ass cookie in here and my cat is asleep under the desk by my feet and some kid across the gangway in the apartments next door is playing a recorder.  Funny little end of summer night.  Fall is round the corner, kids  Better pull out those sweaters and socks.  (And who the hell plays a recorder at 10:30 pm?)  Love the city and all her noisy inhabitants.  And except for the jaunty note or trill on that blasted recorder, it is quiet.  A few TVs.  A woman on the porch with her cell phone.  Sigh.  Why is it that no one thinks you can hear them on the porch?   It echos like hell.   And people talking late at night are often drunk and thus louder!   At least no one making love.  That can be so unnerving sometimes. Nothing worse than sitting alone in the dark and be penned somewhere innocently when that happens.   Especially waking up to it.  You have to acknowledge it and then heave that old "ho hum" I'm not listening declaration "lalalala" whilst the rhapsody of bed springs beat on.  I mean it's a fact of life and nothing to be ashamed of but no one wants to listen to it when they aren't involved. 

(I regret instantly any occasion when someone was forced to listen to my antics.  I know you're out there and I'm sorry.  Oy.  Not a quiet girl myself.  Oh dear.)       

It was my bad (amusing luck) once in college to be beset by a case of insomnia that lasted a few painful weeks.  One night - no matter what room in the house I went to (someone in the upstairs/downstairs apartment) was going at it.  It was ridiculously funny and tragic at the same time.  The whole house was humming: try the veal!  But seriously - the pathos of trying to find one small corner where I wasn't forced to listen to someone humping: it was a cosmic burlesque joke.  Alone, frustrated, single --- that wasn't enough....oh no, I had to wake up, wake up mind you when falling asleep was the hardest task ever, wake out of a dead calm to the horror of the bedroom ceiling shaking and a hideous cacophony of aerobic bedroom gymnastics.  There are certain indignities that make even the humorless take an aside (face the screen ala Ferris Bueller) and look to the skies with a complete WTF expression which is akin only to a pie in the face --- or the moment when you see the pie coming.  Especially when it seemingly never ends.   This couple was clearly athletic, invested, and knowledgeable enough to hammer each other for 15+ minutes without end.  Or until I finally called uncle and went to the living room.   But that first scene of pathos eroded into sheer comedy by the time I made it to the couch, sat down and sighed......only to hear another couple downstairs, and then went into the dining room to hear another; and so forth - till, shaking my head, I went to the kitchen to started a pot of coffee.  And then shazam.  "Did I hear??"  Thinking, "noooooo----????????? is it?  No?!  Are they having a fucking orgy up there???"   And then imaging my rather average looking female college students/friends who lived both upstairs and down and wondering how the hell there were all getting nailed simultaneously?  What the hell was going on with the moon that so many people where screwing in proximity???   Proximity to Me!?!  Then laughing mercilessly at myself for thinking that.  At least Mr Coffee was loud enough to blast out any residual noises I imagined were going on.  I remember crying, while the coffee pot gurgled.  Not real tears but the sort of bleary, drippy eyes one can get when you are so overtired you can't sleep.   Nope,  I doubt I will ever forget that long morning, where I sat finally on the quiet stoop off the kitchen porch in Bloomington, IL.  Drinking one of my first "adult" cups of coffee, watching a man delivering Sunday papers.  And realizing with glum aplomb and resignation that my untainted youth was gone.  And now that makes me snicker.  How droll and over dramatic I was, even at 21.  To this day whenever I hear a neighbor making love, I remember that morning and sigh. "Good morning, Bloomington, Illinois you infernal despot of humanity, I greet thee!"   

Oh but I do wax on.   Still the noises one hears when one is alone.  Like I swear there are mice in the wall.  The cats look up with eyes like saucers when I hear this in the living room here late at night.  And then there's always the distinct possibility that you only think you are hearing some things.  Or are you??  Anyway for those of you who live in the city there is a sound when most people are sleeping that bleeds through the rest of the diffuse noise.  I don't know if this is the collective energy in the ether of our dreams or if as poppa Jack K would say, the sound of the unborn breathing.  But it is there and I have heard it.  And it's at these times, like now, that I most enjoy writing. 

Back to the meat sauce.  Well a vat of it went down stairs to Erik and Alex -- soon to be new parents.  Due date was yesterday.  Figured they needed to kill a little time in the great wait.  So they got some.  And then I figured, since I broadcast it anyway from last blog that a BAKED ZITI was in order.  So off I went to the Devon Market and pulled into that hot mess of a grocery store after work on Monday.   Which was perfect since I had just run my first 18 miler --- and suffice to say, it was a rest day which means I move slow all day long and dream about eating.  So I grabbed a giant container of ricotta, some pecorino, and went home and bake me up some ziti.  I baked two in tandem and threw the whole lot together like a super hero (under thirty minutes).  I then called Wendy and announced that the Rogers Park Commission on New Parents and Sleep Deprivation (RP CNPSD) had thoughtfully arranged for a BABY/BAKED PASTA EXCHANGE.   And we scheduled for the next day. 

Now if you don't have a BABY/BAKED PASTA EXCHANGE in your neighborhood - you should start one.  You need one over zealous cook who is baby mad and childless to ply tired parents with dinner.  You arrive, you tell the weary ones, the parents, to fire up the store and get to doing small tasks while you hold and coo the fussy little one.  They get a little time to clean, do laundry, talk to an adult and then finally sit down and eat.  You get a bit of one on one with the innocent looking adorable bundle of joy that is going to keep your friends awake all night.  They get a litte care and tending and dinner for the bargin.  You go home with the glow of baby love.  Win win all around.

Baked Ziti

Take three bags of pasta  --- 16oz and boil per instructions.  Strain.  Shells seem to be my preferred fav...they crunch up delightfully and hold enough cheese to get to that crisp state on top.

Mix 2 lb container of ricotta w/two eggs, salt, cup of fresh parsley (chopped) and 1/2 cup of parmesan.  I also add some fresh ground pepper to this.  This mixture is good enough to eat and actually for those who remember -- Leona's in Chicago, used to serve a ricotta/parsley mixture with their bread.  Very tasty.

Preheat to 350.  The whole thing cooks for about 45 min to an hour.  Depending on the density of the mixture and your preferred doneness.  Me, I go for a crunchy top.  Best part in my book.  But some like it wetter.  It's flexible...

Take two 9x13 lasagna dishes/bake ware - line with foil.  Dump the pasta equally between the two and stir together with the ricotta mixture. It will be an ugly clump.  No matter.  Add meat sauce as much or as little as you like.  The more sauce, the more cheese you need.   The concoction will be dense.  You should have shredded cheese (approximately 1 lb of mozzarella at bare minimum) for each --- but I often kill off the dregs of any left over cheese I may have around.  The secret for my Baked Zita is that I like it really cheesy.   The top itself must be covered in cheese and then the whole thing baked w/foil on top till the end when you uncover and let the top get to it's desired crispness.  Now sometimes I get fancy and add sauteed garlic, spinach, kale, onions, onions, onions.   Roasted red pepper.  This is hamburger helper for the oven.  Anything goes.  I mean the only thing better is simply making homemade mac and cheese by making a roux and then adding the cheese and fresh herbs and hearing people hit the floor.  But as long as you have cheese (ricotta) to get that richness and then an assortment of cheeses which marry well with the noodles and meat/vegetables - you really can't screw up.  Even a bad baked ziti is better than no baked ziti.  And when the coin is tight you can always live on one of these bad boys for a good long week; reheating and adding and re adding cheese till the very last (and I think) best part is eating the last portion with all the glorious burnt cheese pieces left over to pick on.   Yeah, that is my chef d'slob's favorite part. Hands down.  There is a glory to eating the last bit of the baked ziti and picking off all the little burnts bits left in the pan  ----  a guilty little pleasure.  And if you cooked it, it is your right.  Enjoy without shame!

Also -- there aren't many who would refuse this gift -- for it is both homey and practical and just nice.   It is also heavy.  The most frequent comment I ever get is, "God is this thing heavy!"  For a dish of it will likely weight in over eight pounds, more if I'm toting a glass dish.  Rgh.  My friend Carol Allerton has surgery years back and I told her I would make a Kugel -- which is just another form of baked pasta.  I hauled one, somehow, on the brownline from Rockwell to Michigan Avenue to Fourth Presbyterian Church.  I think I rigged some sort of contraption with plastic bags and some how navigated, switched trains, and scooted down streets with the thing without blinking an eye because there are sometimes when you truly are on a missive from god when you deliver food.  But there I was, scuttling up the steps of the Chicago Avenue El at rush hour with the other commuters - and walking down Rush Street en route with my swinging 10 pound baked kugel proud as can be.  And on heels no less so I felt truly righteous.  Dressed women bearing kugels.  You don't stand a chance.  When Don Allerton went to pick it up, his pallid blue eyes almost bugged out of his bony skull.  "You carried that thing?"   To which I smiled drolly and walked away.

So if you have the time and inclination to do something nice and you start to feel that little hint in the air that summer is ending --- take up some time by delivering a Baked Ziti to someone who is in need - whoever that may be.  Call 'em up and say, hey -- hit that stove (350 degrees) cause I've got something for dinner.  When you arrive, dinner cooks itself and a little good company is shared.  That is the magic of the Baked Ziti.

Acts of God part II to follow.  (the perfect granola bar)

Monday, 23 August 2010

Switching Teams (an ode to the wondrous meat sauce of old)

It happens.

And yes I am being a bit tongue in cheek perhaps, but there comes a time when the issue is forced and one must claim one tribe over the other.  Till that inevitable fork in the road appears, we think we're on the right path.  And then looming before us a great choice.

And generally there is no turning back.   

Oh there can be swaps, when one team calls back a lost one to the fold.  Or the odd ball adventure or two that means you were uninhibited.  But there are but two camps, kids.  And those pesky players who insist they can happily live in between these two worlds can pucker up and kiss my NOW unchafed tuckas cause you are either a bicyclist or a runner.  And them there's the facts.  The awakening will be vast and will shake you to to core.  But in the end, you choose.  You have to.  The road knows and so do we  - if we claim it.  So yes these last few weeks I've come to realize that I woke up a runner and my bike is parked and dusty for more than a season.  So there you have it.  She who once had two dharma wheels to spin now uses her legs alone to guide her cross the landscape.  WTF?

You can snicker but this is a seminal change.  My tree ring for this year ---- dramatic.

And of course any bike story inevitably leads back to Dru.  And that's a long story, kids --- and one I think I'll have to share down the line.  But leaving the bike is in essence leaving Dru.  And till I can muster the courage to write that chapter down properly and truly observe it...let us please eat.  I'm tired.  My weary legs have crossed 18 big ones today and I'm simmering a meat sauce on the stove because 1) I'm always famished!;  2) it's finally cool enough to have the damn stove on; 3) it's one of those days that there ain't much in the larder and we're on a mission from God.

Also, since I've been musing about my old life ----  when my bike was my great love, it is appropriate to dine thus -- as we lived almost exclusively then on the pauper's standby - pasta.  And once in a blue moon, we'd get our hands on some ground beef and amp it up a bit.  It was never great but always filling.  And we ate it as is life depended on it because we were making pennies and we really couldn't afford anything else.  Plus today was a day I needed to face the dreary remains of last week's shopping and try to do something reasonable with the stuff.  So this humble sauce is an odd to the old life - although a bit better. I think I've done a good job today with this.  It's a happy melange of old cans of stewed tomatoes, paste, shallots, onions, kalamata olives, farmers market garlic (not from China!!!) fried up in beautiful Turkish olive oil (Sultan -- a very good value and truly fruity), fresh basil, and about two pounds of ground chuck previously cooked.  I didn't have any cheese rinds so I threw in a hunk of old manchego and fried down another pepper or two from the vegetable bin with a few scrappy onions.  In a bit, I'll add some red pepper and more basil and keep cooking this baby down till the house smells divine.   And maybe I'll put this over some pasta and bake it when the cooler winds come.   I love reheating baked pasta till it the last of it gets all crunchy.  But then that's me....

And maybe while that's cooking after work some night this week, I'll sit back and start up the next batch of something to share...........
Till then, pass the Parmesan and tuck in.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

For David

There aren't too many things to do when one of your dearest friends leaves town --- except feel blue for a while.  I know all too well because my friend, David, just moved to Dallas. 

O'there are friends that I adore, friends I love fiercely: and then there's David: sprite of my heart.

David!  Eternally Dill to my Scout.  My affection for this man: exalted!  I think I fell in love with him after hearing his second sentence, swore once I would have his Semitic love-child if not this lifetime -- the next, and to this day call him My Gay Husband.  Although Kate and Jane and many others in our circle will also invariably chirp in kind, "You mean our Gay Husband."  And because he's David and infinitely lovable, you know you have to share and affirm by say, "yes, our gay husband."

He moved last week on a Thursday.  Damn, just a week ago. 

I caught him that Wednesday night before he left - realizing as I took off for my run that evening, that he was going to be gone the next day.  That thought shattered me like a glass.  It felt like a movie; my heart beating madly, me dashing like hell, afraid he wouldn't be home.  But thankfully he answered the door and we stood there for a moment before he let me in.  Surprised to see me, I think.  And he muttered something about a list and how empty the house looked and I could only sit there and sweat and say, "I've come to kiss you goodbye" before we both cried and hugged and then yours truly had to tear off down Sacramento crying so loudly that a little Hasidic girl playing in her front yard looked up and asked, "What's wrong?" and then looked at her mother for an answer.  I loved her little face, her eyes full of concern ---  but I could only shake my head and run on, whimpering.  (Bless you little girl on Sacramento.)  And I couldn't stop crying till I finished running and that was just fine.  I needed that cry; it was as natural as breathing and strangely curative.  Because I realized that night that there are some people who are put on this earth to teach you how to be yourself.  And David, my dear dear friend, has always allowed me to be JUST WHO I AM and actually love me (flaws and all) which renders me to tears even while I write this because whether David lives down the block or in Texas, he is always in my heart.  So hokey, I know and so absolutely, motherfucking true.  Which is how life goes......

Of course, I'm happy as pie (this is a hint!) that he and his partner Jake are off on a grand adventure and that they are moving close to David's family.  There's just so much hopefulness ahead for them.  And that is really grand to share.   Plus I know just as soon as I get through this blinking marathon, I will be down there sitting at their fabulous pool and laughing my fool head off and plotting some perfectly executed meal with David.   But for now, I'm still a little out of sorts and allowing myself to feel the tenderness/ache that comes when you really miss someone.

Like all seasons of mourning/funkiness -- there are a few tried and true things you can do to combat the blues: but mostly you just have wait it out.  But sometimes you can pull out the big guns and get back to business as it were; you can pull up your boot straps and fire up the stove cause by God, even the sad have to eat.  And being a kitchen witch means your magic is both fierce and practical.

Because I am also a sentimental Witch, I had to make something that I would make for David.  Something I would really feed him if he were here right now; something so suave and yet so homey that it makes you feel like a child again - waiting anxiously for the yummiest thing your favorite Aunt or Grandmother would put before you.   And of course that thing would be, o'Holy of Holies: O'TOMATO Biscuit Pie (ala Laurie Colwin) with adaptations by Madam SOS.  If you don't own her books, get your ass to Amazon now.  These are tomes no good cook should be without.   As my friend E once said, "once you read Laurie Colwin she will become your friend."  And it's true.  Read everything you can get your hands on -- novels, cookbooks, all.  She is priceless. 

Essentially speaking - TBP (Tomato Biscuit Pie) calls for two cups of flour, 1 stick of butter, & 4 tsp baking power and 3/4 milk for each biscuit crust.  My little trick? I doubled the batch and used a cup of chive cream cheese in place of one of the sticks of butter which resulted in a very fluffy/yet crisp biscuit crust.  Roll your dough out after chilling and do not over handle (essential) for a 9 inch pie plate.

Then it's simply sliced tomatoes (2 pounds appox per pie), cheddar cheese (1 1/2 cups shredded per pie) and half a cup of mayo thinned with lemon juice (per pie) and the largest bunch of basil/chives/parsley you can gather and layer everything:  tomatoes, cheese, mayo, herbs before topping with a reserve of the cheese, then plop on the lid/remaining biscuit crust and bake the whole thing at 400 for 25 min.   PS  I also like to lightly salt the tomatoes and let them sit while I'm fussing w/the dough --- so some of the moisture is wicked off. 

These things emerge from the oven smelling like heaven: butter, chives, cheese and basil.  It's intoxicating.
And they are versatile.  Adapt to your taste.  Next time I intend on using sour cream or yogurt instead of the mayo or maybe using something more pungent, but less over powering than sharp cheddar.  Gouda might be nice.  Or a lovely Manchego.

I baked these beauties and instantly felt better.  I was elated.  I decided then that they must be offered up to friends in memory to David.  So one was slotted for Wendy and Casey and the other went to my friend Jen Howard.  I trotted my tomato pies off to each house (drive by Pie!) and felt a strange sort of peace wrap around me.  I had manifested - literal, steaming, examples of my concrete love.  And that was GOOD.  I sat on the floor with Baby Olive and watched Wendy and Casey tuck in and cooed at the baby and realized that melancholy passes like a storm and friends, both near, far -- and yes even those in books we've never met (LAURIE!) are buttresses that hold us in place and anchor our lives.  Without our friends by God there would be no stories or pies worth sharing. 

So yes, there are seasons, my dears - which we cannot prevent and must endure.  But all things can be weathered when you feed your friends and are, in turn, fed metaphorically with their love.

David, David, David!!!!  We are stuffing zucchini when I get there, love. I promise.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Listen to her.............................

The Moon she grows wild in the night skies; we've crested past Midsummer's Eve and the Moon will shine in her glory tonight: pending the omnipresent summer storms that have tormented the region these last few weeks.  What is cooking?  What indeed.

I don't know about you --- but that damn orb in the sky (my muse, and my beacon) has been stirring up some sea of madness as she is wont to do.  OOOOOO I am cagey today and ready for some amusement.  Good thing then that I am booked this weekend with activities a'plenty:  Crossroads Guitar Festival, Pride Parade - a run in a few minutes to shake off cobwebs.  But even as I plot my schedule, my tasks -- I suspect that my dear friend the Moon will blow a few surprises my way.  She makes me pesky.  And I sense some devilment in the air.  What mischief will I be in???  What revelations in store?  For always the Moon, she tests us.  Our rules, our precious expectations.  The things we promise or hope for - like so much dandelion fluff blowing in her midst: gone, gone, gone.  Only the now.  That shiny promise.  The shriek of cats mating - disturbing, shrill, ugly.  Children laughing in mayhem outside till one suddenly cries out. The sound of lovers: moist, panting.  The breath climbing in exaltation, working ever closer to release, to death, to some halting answer FINALLY to all our questions brewing like those storm clouds on a grey green horizon of fear.  Or worse nothingness. 

And still we feel something coming.  Or is it as Jack Keroac said or speculated "the sound of the unborn listening to us?"  O'that moon and the waters she moves.

"I am a ribbon unfurling 'round a lighting bolt.  Feel me.  Now.  I am your blood, your reason, your despair and wanting."  That's what my moon cries..........and she smiles wickedly when she says this while she dries my tears.

Do we dare follow the call
or like cats ---eyes shining in the dark - watch someone else try?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

O there are days.....

And today being the solstice is one of the longest ones - literally, but in truth most of this week has seemed infernally long, stupid and trying....and nowhere near the full moon yet so who can imagine what is in store in the next few days ahead?  Trust me, when you live next door to a crazy lady, often off her meds, you can peg the moon's path by the "lunacy" demonstrated.  It's all the more beautiful when the crazy person in question is actually, yes, a lawyer for the Fair Housing Act.  I can't make this shit up, it's so beautiful.  AAAAH!

How this nutter can operate in court and not get disbarred is just one of those topics you don't want to get into unless you like tearing your hair out and shrieking at the skies.  But this flipping broad is seriously bi-polar and has a BIG BONER to dick with anyone in her path.  Her special delight is fucking with the condo board here because mad or no, she has just enough legal chops to create a ruckus.  And did I say, she's fucking coo-coo for coco puffs?  Like seriously scary, don't look into her eyes, she'll steal your soul, nuts?   Well, this week, our precious Leslie, the 95 pound hag from Hyde Park, was on my ass big time and consequently, yours truly is pooped out.  I only regret I did not take pictures of the hallway where the loony bird treated the carpet (after purposely letting her animals wander the hall) and then proceeded to make an obstacle course of blue duct tape and household items around the treated piss-stained stairway including but not limited too:  a hula hoop, feather duster, basketball, small boxes, and several disturbing hand written signs that were taped everywhere - including the floor.  She then left me a series of handwritten threatening notes (addressed to yours truly) up the stairs (on check registers) and littered the hall with her business cards.  Although she did manage to actually slip her late June assessment and special assessment of $750 under the door.  Totally priceless.  Being the treasurer for this infernal place, I will take this as win.  Oh, but at what cost?

I know it was rich because the gay men of the building, all soused from their afternoon liquor, came up to me with hugs and kisses at the yard sale on Saturday and shrieked, "You go girl, take her on!"   We conversed and traded Leslie stories and finally after much ribald laughter, I actually felt better.  Especially when I admitted that I was surprised not to have seen an ear lying on the stairs - ala Vincent Van Gogh.  But when I did witness her leaving the building today in floaty red sundress and red Converse hi-tops before starting this post,  I had to sigh in relief and giggle. 

Truth is always stranger than fiction and always more so in Rogers Park. 

But today, blissfully - today is like time stopped.  The whacked broad next door took down her paraphernalia in the hall and left.  And the summer skies are bright as the solstice culminates tonight.  We are in the throes of summer:  summer with all it's sweet mysteries and inside jokes. Summer and the clang of dishes being scrapped across the gangway from the building next door.  Fireflies.  Craving soft serve ice cream.  (Let's go, let's go to Dairy Star!  And watch the Hasidim and various softball and soccer teams chow down on kosher non-dairy soft serve!)  The gentle breeze off the lake.  The sound of the TV in the front room trickling down the hall.  Don on the phone quietly with his daughter Nicki.  My strange little home in the city.

I read somewhere online that the brightest light cast the deepest shadows.  Tonight when the skies finally darken and the cats prowl,  I will take stock of both the light and the dark - and sleep soundly.  There are days, my dears, there are days.....................when we meet symbolically the witches of our nightmares and also our dreams.  

Did I say the nutter actually looks like Margaret Hamilton????  Mi Vida Loca, babies.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

why she runs........?

One of the strangest things to happen this last year and half has been my recent running craze. 

Of all of the odd little surprises in life, I truly did not see this one coming.  First of all I was never an athletic kid.  Yar.  In fact, I remember classically being the fat klutzy girl that some team would have to take after all the selections were done.  My best memories of gym class in high school center almost exclusively on the amazing and very deep conversations that would occur in the outfield with my other non-athletic counterparts during softball.  Of course invariably we would get screamed at when there was a hit and we were too busy to take much notice.  (Fuck: I knew who I was at 15 ---- and if I saw a damn ball coming for me, I ducked.  End of story.)  I tried out for volleyball my freshman year and some sadistic Amazonian spiked a ball in my face and I went down like bag of hammers, picked myself up and walked out with my chin in the air before bursting into tears.  Balls are evil.  I have never managed to do any sport with a ball.  Don't even let me get started on the horrors of golf.  Satan plays golf that's all I'm going to say. 

How I even managed to take years worth of dance classes for my music theatre degree and survived: a miracle.  Although this is for Virginia Van Pelt, my former ballet teacher at Illinois Wesleyan, who told me and I quote, "You don't deserve to dance!"  I hate you Virginia Van Pelt.  I wish I had looked you coldly in the eye that day and told you that you didn't deserve to breath.  But I didn't have the chutzpa to let you have it then so today I am going to pimp you for being so heartless and enjoy it just a tiny bit although Jesus/Buddha/Allah and I are all trying to forgive you.  Somehow. 

VVP: kiss my now skinny ass you hateful whorebag.

So yeah, not an athletic gene in my body till years later when dating the bike messenger.  He gave me a bike and I became enamored with cycling in our fair city.  So from 32-39, my bike was my passion, my joy.  I commuted downtown and lived for long rides on the weekends.  I mocked runners.  I couldn't understand them.  So running?  How on earth had the avowed messianic bicyclist parked her double dharma-wheel of pleasure to clomp down the streets like a great huffing ox?  Where on earth did this notion come and why do I now have a fetish for dry-wick clothing?   Moreover, dear God, why do these endorphins make me so convinced that I am doing your will?  Biking is good but running is better....why??? 

I think the first reason was because I was told I could not run as part of a Chiditarod team with the twins in 2009.  Of course, I later ended up running it; but classically got my shorts knotted thinking that my friends had tried to box me out of a race that the rest of them would be running.  (Sort of like being the last damn kid not chosen, I guess.)  Whatever the case, this all occurred when we had gathered as group to run laps at the Galter Center.  And I was told, ever so politely that there could only be 4 mushers to a team although I had been dutifully showing up on Saturdays to run like everyone else had -- mostly because I was lonely and wanted to just hang out.  But to think I was not chosen, that I was not included?  Oy, it killed me.  I think I actually went to the shower afterwards and cried I was so distraught.  So I promptly signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle online and never told one of them.  Even after I had been invited to participate when one of them dropped out.  My former fat girl does not like to be told no.  Truly it was a psychic wound.  As if my heart was clamoring:  "I DESERVE TO RUN!  Damn you!".  And even if I didn't I was going to anyway.  I attribute this to the bonehead gene of defiance.  But it does serve me sometimes.  Anyway I signed up out of spite and wounded pride for my first race because by god even if I had to do it alone, I was going to do it.

Well I ran the Shamrock Shuffle in 2009 (5 miles) and it snowed like hell and it was 23 degrees and I did it.  I ran the rest of summer and later signed up for the Hot Chocolate Race in November (9 miles) and got through that.  And I even ran though the winter --- although I never signed up for a class.  I just clomped through the streets and did my miles and spent a lot of time thinking while getting from point a to b.  2010 arrived and I did my annual Shamrock Shuffle to commentate my first full year of running.  And then the unimaginable occurred.  Not sure yet if its still fat girl defiance or something more lofty/finer -- but I signed up for the marathon.  Yep the Chicago Marathon: 10/10/10.  Today is my first training day and I'm to do three miles.  And at the end of the week, the solo defiant one will run for the first time in her group and we will see what lies ahead.  I'm more afraid of running with a group than actually running the 26 miles.  Of course, the lesson is that we are always running in a group symbolically, we are never really alone:  but I'm sure, just as this chapter began, it will provide some comedy along the way.  All the same, the moxie that got me to this point is not going to be the only skill required to get me across that finish line.   So here we go....

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Lady of Situations

To start there must be a beginning, a marker.  So this year to honor the Turn of the Wheel: (my birthday on May 24th and entry into my 44th year) I decided that I would start my own blog and see where it would lead me.  No great shakes to try it, I guess.  Especially when every other person seems to be doing this ever so earnestly --- but here's hoping this will be a different ride than most.  Or at least good amusement.  Please strap in; it may be a bumpy ride. I will not feign any sort of delicacy.  Or pretend that I'm a good editor/proof-reader.  If anything, I hope to merely tear up the scenery a bit and find the thing that's new. After all, the provocative thing about being 44 is the fact that that you're in the middle (hopefully) of your run and maybe it's time to step it up!??

So I consider this journey/exploration to be it's own sort of spell.

Now some of you may poo-poo the power of a spell and I will be the first to clarify that a "spell" is just intention ritualized, but I realize all the same that I'm a little fruity and off the beaten path -- so call it what you will.  In the story of my life, which I am forever creating - I am a witch from Rogers Park.  And apparently from the number of alternative types in this hood, I'm in good company. All the old hippies of Chicago come back to Rogers Park it seems.  So here it is that I find myself again after 22 years when I first moved to Chicago with the small blond nymphomanic (ex-best friend) to find our fame and fortune and do a decade and a half+ of non-equity music theater. (O'the perils and stories to come regarding those chapters.)  I cannot mark this beginning without acknowledging that one, and in spite of the rancor that still bubbles regarding Ms. Mary and our love/hate friendship that spanned 20+ years, the thing that bears the largest testimony is the love I still continue to feel for her when I think of the past. Since moving back to Rogers Park, I often walk "with her" in memory anyway. This itself has been a balm to quell the hurt we did to each other and often gives me more perspective on our youth/wisdom in general/and the nature of forgiveness. So memory and present often unite --and also redeem.  More importantly, our stories are the tree rings that mark our lives. Yes, it all started on LUNT. Not Paulina or Melvina but LUNT.  Now that roach infested courtyard is a condo called Greystone Manor or something stupid like that.  But it's still the same old place next door to the HEARTLAND CAFE which still continues to serve the world's most atrocious food. (Seriously, how has that place stayed open these many years??????)

So yes, I am a self-proclaimed oddball that would rather be alone than stand in the center with the rest of the common denominator that's too chicken shit to recognize the mystery and power we all possess.  IE:  I might not ask the Sphinx the right question in the end, but damn it all, I'm going to grill the mo'fo - okay?  Let's rumble, Sphinx.  I'm ready!  

Besides, maybe my secret shy girl had to defiantly cultivate a sort of Shirley McClain image. All I know is that I bought into the fact that being different was cool and all the new age hocus pocus of the late 80's/early '90's really spoke to me.  This culminated when I moved to Rogers Park in 1988.  I would dutifully buy my crystals from Isis Rising, subscribed to Circle Magazine, burned my nag champa incense, chanted, took meditate courses, read a "wicked pack of cards" ---- and even went so far as to block out my windows so I would bleed with the full moon.  You name it.  To this day I seldom am without my token moonstone (talisman of Avalon for those of you who have read Marion Zimmer Bradley).  I'm all crazy like that, it's true.

Now, I can blame all of the above on several things but I think its the fact that I grew up watching the TV show BEWITCHED.  From the age of three on, I believed I was a witch or pretended to be. Which of course is one and the same.  (Although I never got the nose wiggle down!)  But what we think about is what we become -- thus, what we write about and create from a blank page is no less than life itself.  Or to quote, my dear ribald, cock-waving Daddy figure Henry Miller:

I reached out to for something to attach myself to - and I found nothing. But in reaching out, in the effort to grasp, to attach myself, left high and dry as I was, I nevertheless found something I had not looked for - myself. I found that what I had desired most of my life was not to live- if what others are doing is called living - but to express myself. I realized that I had never the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to to life, of it at the same time and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live. Whether I die today or tomorrow is of no importance to me, never has been, but that today, even after years of effort, I cannot say what I think and feel - that bothers me, that rankles. From childhood on I can see myself on the track of this specter, enjoying nothing, desiring nothing but this power, this ability. Everything else is a lie - everything I ever did or said which did not bear upon this. And that is pretty much the greater part of my life. (Tropic Capricorn/Henry Miller pg 13-14).
Most of my life has been spent trying to figure out where the hell I'm going and most days I honestly don't know. Yes, of course, I work, I pay bills, tend to family, take care of all the THINGS we're supposed to do -- all those precious day to day menial tasks that give form to our lives. But it's my internal life, that rich murky stuff that leads to longing, dreams, manifestations - that's what I want to dig into. That's what this will be:  a recipe, a spell for self creation.  For who among us can live without food, love, desire, and language?  From this vantage point I have always watched the world and reported it through stories: expanding the truth and living it like a mad Peter Pan. Now I am simply going to catalogue my sauntering tales and share them for those who may find some amusement and solace from one of the outlandish witches of Rogers Park. 

So sit, enjoy and take it in....who knows what might come from a simple online jaunt?

Last note: why the Wasteland theme for the title? Madame Sosostris appears on line 43 of the Wasteland and my 43rd year was about to turn.  Moreover I've always thought there is something very tongue-in-cheek about Madame Sosostris -- as if, perhaps, she knows she is a ruse herself.  Whatever the case, she's always been with me and is very much alive in my imagination. Thus, if if I am reporting from the field -- as a post modern witch in an unreal city --- what better way to pay tribute to my liberal arts education, as well as acknowledge that at base, I'm an old show girl at heart?  So whether I'm spinning a yarn, telling a tall tale, reading your cards, or making you dinner -- know I'm always going to try to give you a little song and dance: n'cest pas?

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant, Had a bad cold, nevertheless Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, with a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she, Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor, (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!) Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks, The lady of situations. Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel, And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card, Which is blank, is something he carries on his back, Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring. Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone, Tell her I will bring the horoscope myself: One must be so careful these days. TS ELLIOT: THE WASTELAND
Here's to the journey ahead. May the Lady of Situations, our eternal muse - lead us forth. 

And lest it be forgotten:  this one is for Alison Chisolm Cooper --- who told me long ago to do this!!!!

About Me

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Chicago, Illinois, United States
A post modern crone, living in an urban fairy tale set in Rogers Park. Two parts story telling -- one part practical kitchen/spell magick.