Monthly Archives: January 2006

She's leaving home (again)

Monday I called home to Portland, and my dad answered the phone. He said he was inside drinking hot chocolate to warm up, because he’d spent most of the afternoon outside in the cold, building a platform in the back of my sister’s new van. When he finished the chocolate, he hurried me off the phone, because he had to finish the platform in time to head out for his Monday night basketball game.

My dad built a platform in the back of my sister’s van (a very large, white 1998 Caravan that Raina has nicknamed “Brenda Jo”) because she is hitting the road tomorrow, starting the big, cross-country tour she’s always dreamed of. She leaves Portland to head for the wilds of Eugene, OR (a whopping three hours away from home). The comes California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. If she’ll be passing through your state on the way to one of these places, but doesn’t have a show there, it’s because she couldn’t find a venue. Take a look at the full calendar here. She’d be happy to add more shows that fit into the timing, if you’ve got the spot and the people.

The second weekend of March, she’s going to be in the City of Brotherly Love, sleeping on my sofa and playing a show in the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church (Saturday, March 11th, 7 pm) for $5 a person. If you’re in the Philly, I definitely recommend you check her out.

When my dad was finished with the custom-fit platform for the van, complete with doors that lock to guard her gear, Raina said, “thank you for building me a house, Daddy.” He said that it was just what parents do for their little rock stars.

Four years and counting

Today is kind of a special day for me. It is the anniversary of the day I left Portland and moved to Philadelphia. There was no significance to the day when I picked it back in November 2001. I just went for the cheapest plane ticket I could find. It’s the only time in my life that I only used the first half of a ticket. I remember when the return date came and went, thinking that was it, I was now a Philadelphian.

I think back to the girl who just knew that moving to Philly was the right thing to do, and marvel at her conviction. There have only been two times in my life when I just knew what the next right step should be. The first time was when I was applying to college. I didn’t do a college search at all. When I was a junior in high school, I got a postcard in the mail from Whitman, and said, “this is where I’m going to college.” It was the only place I applied and I went. The second time was this move. I’m waiting for the next time I will know something with such certainty.

Last night I asked my mom what she thought when I first told her that I was going to move here. She said that she felt like it was the right thing to do, that the absoluteness with which I had announced the plan had made her accept it without a second thought. She said that she was also grateful, because my grandmother had been so alone since grandpa Sid had died, she needed someone.

The first eight months I was here were really hard. I didn’t know many people, I didn’t like my job, and my grandmother died. Then August arrived, and I met my friend Seth. Then Devon, Ted, Ingrid, Ellen, and Cindy. I started to feel really comfortable with Shay and the rest of the bookclub girls, and suddenly, I had people, community, friends, a life. A life that was good and of my own making.

When I first decided that I was coming here, I figured I would be here somewhere between 3-5 years. Now that I’m starting in on my fifth year, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough time. I really can’t say what the next year will bring, what kind of changes my life will go through, if suddenly I will know that it is time to leave. All I do know that my life here is good, and I’m deeply grateful to have listened to that voice in my gut that told me to make my life here.

Alone time

I experienced a close approximation to my perfect day yesterday. I stayed in bed until a little after 10 am, finally lifting my body out of its warm down nest after getting off the phone with my friend Ingrid. I stumbled to the kitchen to make coffee and ate strawberries and the last unrotted pear. I read a combination of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Utne while my sister’s friend Johann sang to me through the Sony speakers on the bookshelf. I got swallowed whole by an idea and spent about an hour at the computer, letting my creative brain send my fingers atappin’ across the keys. I happily lost another chunk of minutes looking at old family pictures and collaging the cover of a notebook. I finally showered at 2 pm and walked from my apartment down to the Ritz East to see Brokeback Mountain.

When I got out of the movie, it was dark and cold, and I caught a lucky bus just outside the theater’s courtyard to take me home.

Good day.


The first time I saw rosemary growing green and free was when I was five years old. I had followed my grandma Bunny outside, and we walked around to the back of her house to the slopping patch of yard where the garden was. She had scissors in her hand and snipped at something fragrant that lay relatively low to the dirt. I was excited to be in the backyard at all, I wasn’t allowed to go back there by myself, because beyond the garden, the slope rolled into a steep downhill. Wanting both to know what she was doing and be helpful, I stayed close and asked if I could help. She handed me the scissors and showed me where to cut. I was startled by the vibrant, soapy smell that rose from the cuts I made. Even now, that is one of the memories that the scent of rosemary takes me to.

My father has always needed to have a garden. They’ve varied in size and content over the years, but they’ve been ever-present in our lives. During the five years we lived in a house with almost an acre of land, he took his gardening responsibilities very seriously, bringing in a small tractor to uproot the blackberry brambles that had taken over the lower half of the yard. I don’t remember any herbs growing live in that house, only a large bouquet of dill hanging on the wall by the sliding glass door. When my sister or would make tuna fish salad, we’d take our bowl over to the dill and shake it a little to make the (dusty) dill rain down onto our food. The last year we were at that garden, he planted corn, squash, tomatoes and lettuce while the apple and pear trees that had come with the house stood nearby. That was when we started calling him “Farmer Mo.”

At the house my family lived in during my high school and college years, rosemary reemerged. It was planted in the small front yard as both a decorative shrub and the go-to herb of the house. Our neighbor would come over and snip off large sprigs to float in her bathwater, when her two young children started to make her crazy. On Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, I would walk out to the front in my pajamas, waving to the people playing touch football in muddy park across the street, to cut an armful of branches, to place under the turkey, so that as it roasted the aromatic scent of rosemary would infuse the meat and stuffing.

My parents moved to the house they live in now three years ago. One of the first orders of business (after building a fence around the backyard so the dog wouldn’t escape) was to plant rosemary and lavender in both the front and back yards. When I go home for Christmas, there are still rosemary plants to snip for turkey roasting, although the only one who sees me out there in my sweats and slippers now is the neighbor’s cat. I choose to take on this holiday “harvesting” task because my parents’ back porch is beautiful to me. Clay pots and plastic ones stand together, planted with hardy herbs year round, and with strawberries and heirloom baby lettuces in the summer and fall. A small maple tree grows in one pot, for no other reason than it was found as a volunteer in another part of the yard and we respect such things.

Everytime I visit the place that will always be home, the morning or night before I leave, I make a little baggie of rosemary to take back with me. It lasts for weeks in the vegetable drawer of my fridge, a little bit of Portland in my Philadelphia life.

These days I buy my rosemary from the family run produce market across the street from my building. For a dollar I get four or five generous twigs, and I use it often, stripping the leaves from the branches for salad dressing, soup or roasted chicken. I’ve tried to grow rosemary in my “apartment garden,” an old wooden ironing board set up along the window covered in pots, but have always failed. I would buy little rosemary starts at Reading Terminal Market, but they died in a matter of days.
All fall I meant to buy one of the Christmas tree shaped rosemary plants they were selling at the grocery stores as hostess gifts. I thought that if I started with a bigger plant, I could make it grow, but I kept forgetting to pick one up with my milk and cereal.

When I returned from Portland on December 31st, my friends brought me a surprise. A rosemary tree. It was the end of the season for these trees, so it was on sale, a good bargain. It was also dried out and close to death. I went out several days later to buy it a new, bigger pot and fresh soil.

This rosemary plant has been living in the apartment garden for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been watering it frequently, and I often brush my fingers over the leaves to better carry the smell with me. This morning I walked over to the window to greet the plants and the day and saw that my rosemary tree was starting to lose it’s cone-shaped exactness as bright new leaves forced their way towards the light. I joyfully thanked it for thriving and went to the kitchen to make coffee, thinking how I could get my hands on an apartment sized bay tree.

My intersection of faith and politics

I went back to church last Sunday after missing most of the month of December due to late Saturday nights at holiday parties, and a couple of weeks of Portland vacation. I was recruited to act as a greeter that morning, and so I stood at the front door of the church, offering smiles and orders of service to all those who walked past, as well as hugs for friends I hadn’t seen in weeks.

The service began with music and a welcome. The minister lit the chalice as we were led in the responsive reading that I can recite by heart. We blessed the fire of our faith and the illuminated moment of our gathering and welcome all who gather to our intentional diverse religious community. Last week, the standard script was missing from the pulpit, so the worship associate who was assisting the minister was without the words we are used to hearing. She explained this and then reaffirmed the welcoming nature of the church community by listing from memory all those groups who are often not greeted with acceptance by churches. It was a complete list as far as I knew, but she finished by saying, “and if I didn’t list your group, I’m sorry to have missed you, but know that you are welcome here.”

During the Sharing of Names, a long time church member stood at the lecturn to celebrate an event in his life. He said,

My ex-wife and I have two wonderful children, but as much as we ask, they have not given us grandchildren yet. While I still have hopes for them, I just got some wonderful news, which I’ve been given permission to share with you all. I’m going to be a grandmother! My partner’s son and daughter-in-law are having a baby!

The congregation burst into applause, and this church member walked back to his seat with a 3-foot grin on his face, his partner radiant with joy back in the pew.

I call the Unitarian church the Ikea of religions. You go in, you pick out what you need and you take it home and put it together for yourself. It is self-directed and individualized, which is a radical concept in religion these days, when the majority in the country want nothing more than to be told what to believe. They condemn us all for asking our members to sculpt their own theology, for telling them it’s okay to keep what works for them and abandon that which doesn’t.

My church doesn’t feel radical when I’m sitting in the sanctuary, gently tinted light filtering through the stained glass. It feels loving, warm, joyous and yet (dare I say it) almost traditional. If only radical love and acceptance were the traditions of our land. Until they are, I take them where I can get them.


I’ve spent the last couple of days looking for comfort. I can feel a hole inside me, and I’ve been looking for things to fill it. I’m not sure why this space opened recently (it’s not the first time this hunger has been awakened inside me), but I woke up Wednesday morning and could feel it gaping. At that point, I hadn’t yet identified it, or come to understand it’s power, I just knew that something was not right with the way I felt.

I went for a run Wednesday night, thinking that if I moved fast enough, I could put some distance between me and the hole, but it remained, close and hungry (although it did appreciate the exercise). The next night I sat at my computer, browsing online personals and eating the remains of a half gallon of off-brand Dulce de Leche ice cream that had been languishing in my freezer for over two months. The online personals were an attempt to comfort myself with the idea of finding love, of course, they did the opposite. The ice cream indulgence was a reaction to the dating blues that the craigslist and phillymag personals induced.

Friday I sat at work, unexcited and unmotivated about doing my job. Running an errand across campus, I stopped at Starbucks for a chai latte. Maybe something hot and sweet could make me feel better? While waiting in line, I started to think about this craving for comfort. I walked back to work with the overly sweet drink in hand, trying to identify the things that were going on in my life that were causing me to feel this way. The act of asking of presenting that question to the vacuum in my head and heart made me realize in a flash that there nothing external could make me feel better. My continued efforts to offer myself comfort with food or boys or even the ribbon that binds my tattered baby blanket weren’t going to get me anywhere, because they were of a different world and a different reality from this craving for comfort. It was an internal pain and the only way to send it packing was to look at it from inside myself.

Amazingly, that realization was the first thing in days that had the power to make me feel comforted (but I finished my frothy, overpriced drink anyway).

Welcome Winter

The unseasonable April in January weather we’ve been having may finally be over. Check out the snow falling on Chestnut Street (it is also coming down elsewhere in Philly as well).

Random Friday–It's as foggy outside as it is in my head

It’s Friday. Even better, it’s the Friday before a three day weekend. My plans aren’t huge, but they will be fun nonetheless (Unitarian happy hour tonight at N. 3rd, party tomorrow night), and I’m really (REALLY) looking forward to sleeping in on Monday morning.

So, the rules for the Friday Random Ten. Set your pod or other digital music device a’shufflin’ and report back the first ten songs it pulls up. There will be no skipping or omitting of songs, no matter how much they reveal your kitschy or odd musical tastes. Come, you were the one to put it on there in the first place.

1. One Big Holiday, My Morning Jacket (It Still Moves)
2. Ready, Steady, Go, The Meices (Empire Records)
3. Viper Drag, Papa John Kolstad (Beans Taste Fine)
4. All Over the Map, Ellis (Tigers Above, Tigers Below)
5. Circle, Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstacy)
6. Long Way From Home, Rory Block (Confessions of a Blues Singer)
7. Better After All, Jonatha Brook (Back in the Circus)
8. Martha My Dear, The Beatles (The White Album)
9. Tom’s Diner, Suzanne Vega (Solitude Standing)
10. Brother Christopher, Reverend Tor Band (Whatever it Takes)

Favorite Song: One Big Holiday by My Morning Jacket. When this one started playing this morning, I was walking through the clammy drippy air that’s hanging over the city this morning towards the trolley stop. My heart was singing the blahs, and I just wanted to go back to bed. Then I switched on the pod, pressed shuffle and it dealt me this song. And I started to feel better.

Least Favorite Song: All Over the Map by Ellis. I picked this song because I’ve never heard it before and have absolutely NO idea where it came from. It wasn’t a bad song, just unfamiliar, which can sometimes be the kiss of death just as equally as legitimate dislike.

Personal Connections: I ain’t got none today. Shocking, I know. But really, I can’t have a story about every artist on the pod, now can I.

Favorite Artist: Rory Block. The first time I heard her, I think on NPR (maybe a Prairie Home Companion?) I needed to own her music. I needed to be able to play it whenever the urge struck. She has a throaty, powerful voice that helps me shake free the calcifications of self-doubt that sometimes rattle around my soul.

If you need more Random Friday than I’ve got for you, check out some of these guys:


Tonight I made quesadillas for dinner. They were mostly stir-fried veggies, on whole wheat tortillas, with just a little sharp cheddar to hold them together. I was inspired to make them because I had a bunch of peppers, onions and mushrooms leftover from my spaghetti sauce endeavor last weekend. As I assembled them and grilled them quickly on an old griddle I got at a junk store outside of Charlotteville, a memory popped into my head. A memory of the best tortillas I ever had.

I lived with my parents in Portland the fall after I graduated from college. I had already decided that I was going to move to Philly, but hadn’t done so yet. I needed to find a job for those intervening four months, and so I did what I always did in those days when I needed work. I made a flyer, offering my services as an organizer. One of my fliers made it into Ellie’s hands. Ellie was a substantially wealthy woman who live in the West Hills of Portland, and was looking for someone to help her organize her office and basement, as well as run some errands for her. She paid me well, and it was the perfect job for that time of my life.

Ellie had a maid named Teresa, who was from Mexico and who spoke almost no English. It was the only time in recordable memory when my mediocre high school and college Spanish was put to some utility. Teresa cooked and cleaned that enormous house, and at least once a week, made fresh tortillas. I watched her do it many times, but have never been brave enough to try it myself.

She would empty a five pound bag of tortilla flour (I don’t know what she used, but it was from the Mexican market) into a baking dish and pour in some oil and water (again, I know nothing about her amounts. I imagine she had done it so many times that it was as familiar as breathing to her). She would gently fold the dueling liquids into the flour until she had a firm dough. Then she would break off little bits and roll them into balls. Next she compressed the balls into little discs and finally she used a rolling pin to flattened them into a recognizable round, about the size of a CD. She would cook them gently on a griddle, flipping them like pancakes until they were done.

She frequently turned three or four of them into cheese or chicken and cheese quesadillas for my lunch. They were unlike any tortilla I’d ever had, before or since. They were almost flaky, like good pastry, but with a toothsome nature that store-bought tortillas don’t have. They will always be the with which I measure all other tortillas. Nothing has ever compared.

My Book Project

When I was growing up, I was a reader. That’s how people described me. I could be content for hours to sit with a book and let myself slide into a world different from my own. I could read in cars without getting carsick. I could read by a window until the light was nearly a memory, not noticing that my face was six inches from the page, and I was squinting, until my parents came into the room and flipped on the light, their eyes aching in sympathetic pain. My bedtime had a built in 1/2 hour reading time. One of the greatest thrills of my life was when we moved to Portland and I finally had my own room. It meant I could sneak the light back on after my parents came in and said goodnight, so that I could read a little longer. I never traveled without a stack of books, and at just about all times, a book could be found on my person.

I remember once, being at a Thanksgiving potluck dinner at the Unitarian church in Portland when I was around 11. I was sitting at a table, waiting for dinner to start, reading a book. I was so absorbed in that book that I didn’t hear Lynn, a past Learning Community (the Unitarian version of Sunday School) teacher of mine, walk up to me and start talking. She had to tap my shoulder three times to get my attention, and when I gave a start that brought me back to the Parish Room, she laughed and said, “I can’t believe that in the noise and bustle of this room you are so totally engrossed in that book.”

I still love books and love to read, but as I’ve gotten older and my life has gotten busier, my dedication to reading has slacked a little. So I’m embarking on a project that involves both books and a blog. It’s My Book Project. I’ve made a goal of reading a book a week for the next year. It has to be a book that I already have in my possession, and one that I’ve never read. Since I have approximately 150 of those in my apartment (and I’m expecting another box of books via media mail from my mom any day), I’m not going to run out of things to read any time soon. I’ve started the accompanying blog because I need some sort of public accountability to keep me going. Also, I want to keep track of the books I read, record the experience and have a record of how the year went when 2007 comes a knockin’. Right now there’s just an introduction to the project up on the blog. I finished the first book last night, and hope to complete the second tonight (it’s a short book).

Please, check it out. I’ll probably post over there a couple of times a week. If you want to read along with me, let me know.