Doctor’s Office

Several months ago I promised my kids that I would not only go to a doctor for a check-up, but that I would also follow up on any of the routine tests the doctor ordered – colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.  So this was the week to get the ball rolling.

On Monday I saw the dermatologist who flash froze some things on my face with a device that looked like something my husband might use for welding.  The doctor represents a line of products that plump wrinkles, moisturize skin and lighten old-lady brown spots. She did manage to sell me on that last one – a lightening serum for $114.  I haven’t noticed any changes yet.

Today I went to the internist – a new doctor.  I don’t know why doctors make me so nervous, but the minute I step into a doctor’s office, my blood pressure goes up.  I made it through the preliminaries – weight (fine), height (I’ve shrunk a half inch or so), blood pressure (surprisingly normal) with no problems.  But then I had to sit there for at least 15 minutes waiting for the doctor.  I read for a few minutes, but couldn’t concentrate, so I checked my email and ended up just staring at the door, willing the doctor to show up so I could get this over with!

The young lady that walked through the door, my new doctor, was about the same age as my oldest son.  She had a long pony tail and friendly face.  She sat down and asked me lots of questions in the most comforting way, showing a genuine interest in me.  She didn’t give me a hard time for all of the tests I haven’t had for years, or never, and gently talked me into doing all of them.  By the time I left, I was signed up for everything and feeling good about it.

Now I just need to follow through…I can do this!



Reading to Write

I have always marked up books while I read -my Dad used to do this and I loved reading his notes scrawled in the margins.  My marking up takes all kinds of forms (i.e. highlighter, scribbles, symbols, circled words) and has a variety of purposes.  Sometimes I admire the author’s style, or find a bit of dialogue that I want to share with my book club.  Maybe it’s a passage in a book I’m reading with my students that we absolutely have to talk about.  It could be a word that catches my fancy, or a place where I’m annoyed with the writer and wish I could tell her, or him, so.

Recently I find myself marking up places in books where the author has created an image that catches my fancy, that makes me see or feel something in a new, fresh way – all done with words!  I am a bit fixated with descriptions of place at the moment.  Just yesterday I copied an entire paragraph from Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, the 3rd book in the Old Filth trilogy.  The passage describes the sea in Terry’s hometown using words to depict an image of an unfriendly beach with “derelict gray dunes… empty except for knives of grey grasses”, creating a glum mood.

I copied a number of sentences from Marilynne Robinson’s Lila into my journal, including: “They stood there together in the road, in the chirping, rustling silence and the sound of the river.”  How beautiful, and unexpected – the silence felt by two people in spite of all of the noises.  Of course I’ve experienced that.  Or, Colum McCann in Transatlantic describes a wind “that muscled its way into the grass” – I love the use of the word muscled and can totally see and feel the grass rippling.

I am working on my own verbal images to describe place, using these “mentor” texts to spur me towards fresh sensory language.  (Without overdoing it, of course.  But, as our students often do, we sometimes have to go overboard with a new idea before we conquer it.  We’ll see.)

Drawing to Write

My first attempt at drawing the rocks – what a mess.

My current journal is filled with drawings and a fair amount of writing.  A long time ago my journals were sketchbooks with a few words. Then they became notebooks of mostly words, with a small sketch inserted here or there.  The small sketches were illustrations of something I was writing about – a special church steeple, and interesting sign, a fountain… Now I find that I am drawing to write.  I am trying to use drawing as a way to see things more deeply in order to describe them better in writing.

I was drawing a beach scene recently: the branches of the palm tree gracefully arching over the sand, framing the water as it lapped the shore.  I drew in little marks to indicate the sea debris washed up on the shore, but it looked all wrong.  A second, more careful look, showed me that the trail of sea debris (shells and seaweed and the occasional bottle cap) ran parallel to the ocean in a wave-like pattern.  Well duh! The waves had deposited this stuff, so it makes so much sense that the debris follows the waves’ patterns.  I erased what I had drawn, used a 6B pencil and with soft strokes and smudges, created the trail anew.

In another sketch, I attempted to draw my nemesis – rocks.  The beach I was on had a rock cliff wall forming one of its edges.  I was a bit at loss on how to establish the correct perspective – the rocks formed no straight line leading me to a point I could use.  I kept at it and produced something resembling the scene, but it didn’t capture it very well.  I went out in the water and followed the rocks around a bend – no wonder I had a hard time establishing the perspective point.  I saw that the dark line where the rocks meet the water is really a shadow where the waves have carved away the rock.  The rocks that seem to be outcroppings in the water are actually connected to the rock cliff.  The rocks are not just gray, they are brown and tan and all shades in between.  I meant to redo my sketch, but never got around to it.  If I ever do, I will start with a sweeping line to indicate the path of the rocks as they disappear around the bend.

Last night, as I began to write about my trip using my 6-image poem observations, the words I collected on the trip, and the sketches, I saw the power of the drawings and how they can help me write more detailed, “honest” descriptions.

Sunday Dinner: Is there anything to eat?

The large 8-and-a-half-quart pot sat straddled across 2 burners.  The smells of caramelizing onions and peppers was enhanced by the 8 minced cloves of garlic I had just added to it.  The broth was simmering on another burner – clam broth enriched with shrimp shells and saffron. I was getting ready to add the Arborio rice to the paella when my husband came into the kitchen with the most ridiculous question, asked in all sincerity: “Did you make anything JC can eat?”

I stared at him for a bit and then gave him a piece of my mind.  My 3 kids and my daughter-in-law were due to come for dinner in 45 minutes. I had been cooking all afternoon (happily so) and he chose this time to ask me that question.  The whole meal was prepared with all of our many food issues and preferences in mind!  I had made a pescatarian paella with not a drop of chicken broth in it. There was not a speck of gluten to be found in the paella or side dishes. I made a separate dish of chorizo and chicken for my meat-loving son (who is married to the pescatarian) and the dessert was all chocolate for those who only eat chocolate desserts.

When I was done with my rant, he slunk out of the kitchen.

Dinner was lovely.  We caught up and played a new game, Saboteur, to lots of laughter.  Every once in a while one of the kids would make a trip to the kitchen for another drink.  While there they scooped up leftover paella out of the pot.  Nick dipped his spoon of paella directly into the dish of aioli repeatedly, horrifying us all.  And yes, everyone had something they could eat.

Sunday Puzzles: An Obsession

Puzzle 1.JPG           Puzzle 2.JPG

On Sunday mornings I luxuriate in the pages of the New York Times.  It’s the only day of the week we get the Times, the rest of the week we stick to our local paper, the Washington Post.

The first thing I do (and my husband always lets me, even if I sleep in) is take the paper out of its plastic sleeve, lay out the different sections, shake the heavier sections to free the NYT magazine and book review section (yes! they still have one), and put the sections together in the order I want to read them.  On some Sundays the paper is especially heavy with the addition of a special T-Magazine – a glossy fashion spread that weighs a ton – I usually don’t get to this until Monday or Tuesday.

With the paper laid out on the table, I take the NYT magazine to the kitchen with me to make coffee.  I open it to the puzzles page and find the “Spelling Bee” puzzle.  This puzzle looks like a simple dartboard with one letter in the middle, surrounded by 6 other letters.  I take a picture of it and forward it to a few friends who are also obsessed with this puzzle.  Usually I see a word or two right away and I scribble them in the margins.  I know that every word has to have at least 5 letters and has to use the letter in the center.  I also know that one of the words is likely to use all 7 letters.

The puzzle lives with me all morning.  It sits in front of me as I read the paper – a glance now and then helps me see another word.  I have it next to my plate of gluten-free blueberry pancakes and bacon – my husband’s treat to me every Sunday.  I take it upstairs and lay it on my dresser as I make the bed and if I need to iron some shirts for my husband, it sits to the left on the ironing board (I am left-handed).

The first 5-10 words come easily, but my goal is to achieve “genius” status, as defined by the puzzle-maker.  I am competitive and it drives me nuts if my fellow puzzlers find more words than me.  To keep going, I list base words and use letters to make prefixes and suffixes that might help me find a word. Sometimes I mess up and find words that use letters not in the puzzle grid and have to cross them out.  When I least expect it, I see the 7 letter word just staring at me, taunting me: why didn’t you see me earlier you fool?

When I’ve reached genius status, or I don’t have any more patience, or I run out of time, I look at the answers.  I groan when I see the obvious plain old words I missed.  I get a bit miffed when there is a word that I didn’t know was a word – I might look it up to make sure it exists and to find out what it means.  I’ve learned that the puzzle maker often counts hyphenated words without the hyphens (hyphenated words not allowed), so I include them now, just in case.  And so it goes…

Once I’m done, I’m free to start on the NYT magazine crossword puzzle.  That’s a another story.  (Anyone else out there follow Rex Parker’s blog?)


I Can’t Wait for Dinner Tonight


Journal Page

I was shopping at Whole Foods yesterday and was excited to see red snapper for sale.  Red snapper is that beautiful fish with a white underbelly and coral tail whose back looks as if someone had loaded a paintbrush with deep coral and pink pigments and splattered it at random.  Not too long ago I watched someone scale and clean this fish on the beach, the shorn scales scattered across the water, iridescent in the bright sunshine.

I am going to cook it in a coconut curry sauce with a bit of lime juice for sparkle, a dash of turmeric for that golden color.  In Jamaica I had the snapper with bammy, a flatbread made with cassava.  But tonight I’ll stick with something I know better, probably Jasmine rice. For a vegetable?  I don’t know yet, I’ll have to see what feels right as I plot and plan my meal all day.

I can’t wait for dinner tonight, to share that flavor memory with my husband.













Living on the Edge: Bandit and Me

Today I began working on my journal page titled “Juxtaposition”.  On my recent trip to Jamaica I was struck by a number of odd juxtapositions – those things that exist side by side, often uncomfortably.  One of the more humorous examples of this was the side by side relationship of my world and the world of Bandit.

I was invited to stay with friends who have a villa in Jamaica.  The villa sits on a rock cliff overlooking the ocean with a path that meanders down to a private beach.  A covered porch with various seating areas runs along the length of the house.  It was our outdoor living room.  Sitting on the porch sofa we had views of the ocean framed by the boughs of sea cotton trees. A bench was strategically placed at the edge of the rocks, under the trees, for communing with nature.  It was idyllic; it would have been perfect except for the presence of Bandit, the guard dog.   The dog instilled terror in me.

Bandit wasn’t allowed in the house or on the porch, so the porch became my safety zone.  I never stepped off the edge when Bandit was out and about (I actually rarely made it to the edge). My friends quickly realized that I wouldn’t venture out if Bandit wasn’t tied up and made sure he was when I went to the beach for long stretches of time.

Bandit honed in on me –  he knew I was terrified of him and was just waiting for his chance to “get to know” me.  I had reason to be a bit scared.  Another guest had been nipped by him and another warned me about keeping my cool around the dog.

Every evening I thought: tomorrow I’ll be okay with the dog.  But every morning when I made my first appearance on the porch with my coffee, Bandit was there, at the edge of the porch, as close as he dared, to greet me with ferocious barks.  I lamely said something like, “Hey Bandit.  It’s okay, let’s be friends.”  But I made no move towards him and sat in the seat closest to the house.

Yet, at night, I was grateful for Bandit’s presence.  I slept with the doors open onto the second floor deck, lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, cooled by the constant breezes.  I slept well knowing that I was protected – from what I’m not sure, but there is a reason most villas in Jamaica have gates and guard dogs.

The dog that gave me a sense of security at night, threatened my sense of security during the day!  Maybe, if I go back next year, I can tame my terror and learn to peacefully coexist with the dog… Maybe I can step over the edge without thinking about it.




I love journals!  I love them as a place to keep ideas and lists and important moments and small moments and drawings, generally the stuff of our lives.

I have piles of notebooks and journals around the house.  I started with sketchbooks back in my architecture days filled with drawings and observations of buildings I saw in my travels and explorations of my own designs.  I moved on to writer’s notebooks a la Lucy Calkins when I became a teacher – those composition notebooks with the collaged covers.  It is fun to think about the hundreds of notebooks that my students launched into the world during my 20 years of teaching.  That led to my “adult” journals, the ones I still use.

For me, the tactile page is important.  I obsess over what type of pens to use – the right one, the one feels good as it touches the paper, will keep me writing.  Recently, inspired by my architecture days, I am including more drawings and color with my entries.  I also find that I am using strategies and ideas I taught my students.  On a recent trip to Jamaica, I knew I wanted to capture the atmosphere, the spell Jamaica casts on me, so I set up a page before I went using Georgia Heard’s 6-room Image poem exercise.  I used this exercise every year with my students to prepare for poetry writing, or as a way to revise and enrich their prose writing with sensory detail.

Today I hope to finish my page about Jamaican food and start on my page about the Great Houses of Jamaica.  I also need to do some writing based off of my 6-room Image poem.

It strikes me that the “Slice of Life” writing is a form of journal writing.  The sharing of it makes it a little different from my own journaling, as does typing into a blog.  But I’m sure these entries will accumulate and form inspiration for future writing.

A page from my journal.

Disrupted Rhythm

The daffodils in the front yard are bright yellow.  The rosebud trees down the street are in full bloom.  The flowers of the tulip poplars dot the neighborhood.  I don’t need a jacket as I step outside and my husband is already complaining about tree pollen allergies.   I check the calendar to make sure: yes, it is only March first.  What is going on?

I could ask the same question of myself as my own patterns are out of whack.  Recently retired, happily not working, I haven’t found a rhythm yet.  It worries me.  Each evening I vow that I will be showered and dressed before 10, yet most days you will find me reading the paper and solving the crossword puzzle in my pajamas until well after 10.  Once I am dressed, I wonder what book to read next, or should I work in my sketch journal, or perhaps I should exercise or what fun thing could I make for dinner.  After 36 years in the working world, 21 one of those as a teacher, I have no set schedule, no clear goals – no matter how many lists I make.

There is nothing I can do about the patterns of nature this year, so I go out on the deck and sit on the steps (too early to bring out the deck furniture?) and soak it in.  I listen to the excited birds, turn my face towards the sun, look up at the purple buds sprouting on our massive Silver Maple tree and just enjoy it.  Perhaps it’s okay to just enjoy my own disrupted rhythm, to go with the flow and see where it takes me.  At least for now.