Monday, September 28, 2009

Completely baseless assumptions

I sent some e-mail to a fellow knitter whom I've never met about a week ago, asking her for a teensy-tiny favor. To explain what it was all about is not worth going into nor particularly interesting, but trust me when I say that I did not ask for anything that would have put this person out in terms of time or effort, and that, in fact, what I was asking was of benefit to her. To my surprise, I received a nearly hostile e-mail in return. I replied (not in kind), received notification that my e-mail was bounced back to me for it had come from an e-mail account that only sends mail but doesn't receive it (another unfriendly gesture). I thought about sending yet another message to the original account, to see if I could smooth things over, for there had to be some misunderstanding. I wound up thinking it was a waste of time. Some people are just not nice and no amount of smoothing will change that.

This was a fairly nothing "event." Just because I'm writing about it doesn't signify that it meant or means much to me, but it made me realize how I have a strange assumption that all enthusiastic knitters are nice people. Does just liking fiber and making things with one's hands make a person nice? Obviously, I've thought so, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.

As I was ruminating about this blatantly silly assumption, I remembered the last time I e-mailed a total stranger with a knitting question. That didn't work out too well. I had picked up a copy of a book with highly complicated designs in it and poor directions for how much (and what type) of yarn was used for making the projects. In spite of being able to figure out on my own what yarn to use, I thought it might be nice to e-mail the author and ask her. What did I get as a response? "How the hell would I know?!" I kid you not. I was so shocked, the only thing I could think was that this woman was having one hell of a bad day (or life).

I once drove four hours to pick up some things from a "famous" knitter, and she was so unfriendly that she didn't even allow me to come into her house for a pee break. I was handed the box of what I came to get right at my car and sent on my way. That's actually worse than the obnoxious e-mail comment, now that I give it some thought.

This happened many years ago, yet my belief that all knitters are nice has persisted. I have a deep-seated sense that anyone who appreciates the feel of yarn against their skin and the quiet pleasure of clacking a bunch of needles together has got to be a good person. It goes even further than that; I also have a bit of a prejudice against those who don't appreciate a nice ball of yarn and those who prefer acrylics to natural fibers. If someone picks up some yarn and holds it to their nose, I am sure they are truly wonderful. If they say "Ew! It smells like sheep!", well, they lose many points off my nice-o-meter.

Y'know what? Today I realize I'm totally full of it. I'm sure there are some truly awful people who love natural fibers and the smell of sheep on a damp day, just as there are the nicest people in the world who wouldn't wear wool if you paid them and can't sit still long enough to knit a pair of baby booties. My assumptions are, as the title says, completely baseless. And maybe I'm not that nice myself. I know more than a few people who think so.

But really, those folks are surely wearing ugly polyester sweat shirts, right?

Photo note: The yarn and photos in the Kindred Threads Etsy shop are more than lovely.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Changing taste

Fall has arrived. Though it crept up slowly, it feels as if it's all so sudden. This morning is gray and there is a blanket of leaves upon the ground. Last night, as with all the nights in the last week, I was keenly aware of how early it became dark out, and the reality that soon it will be nearly dark at 3:30 in the afternoon is starting to set in.

When the weather changes, my taste in fragrance usually changes along with it. This season something else has changed. I've pulled out some of my favorites and their charms eluded me. My love of frankincense seems to have left me. In spite of that, Serge Lutens' new Fille en Aiguilles tempts with it's promise of a sweeter version of L'Artisan Passage D'Enfer.

Thankfully, I can't afford such a splurge, nor would I jump at a unsniffed purchase of a scent composed of notes I may have lost my taste for. I do wonder why some fragrances that had transported me fairly recently have lost their spell-binding allure, or simply their comforting familiarity. I'm not one given to fickleness. I suspect something larger is going on. Hormones?

We know so little about the sense of smell. I know that smell has a profound effect on me. It always has, from a whiff of something bringing back forgotten memories and images, to my first experience of falling in love, and remembering the revelation of burying my face in my 16-year-old boyfriend's neck and feeling literally weak in the knees. The word "swoon", bandied around in romantic writing, is certainly real. There are those who've never swooned, and I feel a bit sorry for them. It is delightful, and a bit frightening in the way the experience reminds the conscious mind that it's not entirely in control.

I nearly swooned the first time I smelled Annick Goutal's Encens Flamboyant, and now it's leaving me cold. I quickly posited "hormones?" and left us all hanging. Yes, I suspect it might be hormones. I'm going through the big change, the unmentionable mid-life menopausal thang (and there, I've mentioned it). It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this could cause immense changes in taste in one's sense of smell. It is times like this I wish I was a researcher. I feel quite sure of my thesis, and I'd love to prove it.

In lieu of that, I've only myself to test my hypothesis out on, and my few readers. Anyone else experience sudden changes in taste and smell? I suspect any large life changes can trigger them, and certainly changes in weather and season seem to always do so.

Image note: Frankincense (Boswelia). I knew Frankincense was a resin, but of what I was ignorant. Go here to read about its processing and history in detail.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More paddling

Paddling, noticing. Noticing that I was judging myself. "Why am I moving so slowly?" Wondering why I think I need to get anywhere on the pond any faster than I am. I have no where to go. When I'm about to finish my paddle, as I round the bend to where I can see the dock, a young woman seemingly appears out of nowhere, moving fast. I say hello, then catch myself watching her as she moves past me and then cuts a tight circle, heads back, and is on land before I am even halfway there myself. I'm exploring the edges of the pond, but I'm also thinking about how agile and young she is, and what I might be "doing wrong." Maybe I'm doing nothing wrong.

I paddle slowly and quietly. I notice that when I'm not paying attention, I hit the boat with the paddle. The sound is an alarm. Wake up!

My mind is all over the place today. Edgy and tired, as I headed out, the sun was right in my face. Instead of enjoying its warmth, I found it bothersome, like driving into the light. I tried to move out fast and enjoy the return trip. Then I noticed I had forgotten about having the sun in my eyes. The pond had enchanted me, once again, and I had lost myself in looking at the colors, just a bit different than last time.

The leaves are turning, but instead of becoming brighter, they seem as if they're only fading. I analyzed the colors, trying to burn them into my memory. The water is not blue. It is almost black even though it is shallow. The pond is filled with mysteries. Tree limbs of all sizes and ages. A huge rusted piece of farm equipment. Spongy plants that live beneath the surface. Pond grasses that are almost bright red where they emerge from the water. Fish that dart away before I can see them. Unopened lilies that may never open this season.

I went out today thinking I'd be quick about it, but I can't be quick about it. An hour and a half was a short survey of the pond, but it was long enough to let my mind calm itself. I'm not sure what made me feel so harried. Perhaps it was only running errands, running a bit late for an appointment, seeing the gas light come on when I was only halfway to a place to fill the tank, going to drive-through windows so I could get home sooner, not getting home soon enough, being overdressed on a warm day, chewing gum quickly, having hot flashes, life.

Painting note: One third of Monet's "Water Lilies" triptych. When you click on the link, you'll see the colors look completely different. The only way to really experience this painting properly is in person.

My little painting from the other day, directly below, now seems garish, so I need to remind myself that when I did it, I felt it captured what I felt and saw, imperfectly, but well enough.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Freedom Pond, again

The dock at Freedom Pond has it out for me. I should just stick with my determination to stay away from it, but for some reason I can not. Today, for the want of dry feet, I tried to do a fancy maneuver (using the dock) to get out of my kayak. It didn't work. I wound up with one foot on the dock, another in the kayak, and the two were swiftly separating from each other, even though I'd watched two (count 'em!) YouTube videos showing precisely how to anchor one's kayak and dock using the paddle. As I watched my legs form a near split, I realized I was going to either have to grab that dock which had cut me so well last Sunday, or let myself fall into the pond. I chose the latter.

A long sweater and baggy jeans are quite heavy when wet. I slogged through loading the kayak into the car and thanked those lucky stars that I lived near by, as I'd never have thought of bringing a change of clothes for what was supposed to be a quick late afternoon paddle. I also had a good laugh. The image of what I had done so imperfectly was pretty funny.

I needed this. I've been in a funk for days, feeling physically ill and with it, the seemingly inevitable depression. Both the paddling and the laughable spill were the perfect antidote for it all. On the water (and in the water) I feel fine. The aftermath was good, too; I love the feeling of being cold and wet, peeling off the dripping clothes, giving myself a good towel dry down, and then changing into nice clean clothes. I'm sure this is tied to some happy childhood experiences that I have no conscious memory of.

I'm enjoying visiting the pond again and again. Something new always surprises me, whether it's merely the change of light due to weather or time of day, or birds I've never seen before. Today I startled many small flocks of mallard ducks, which made me feel rather guilty for intruding upon their territory. They had been incredibly quiet and invisible to me in the tall reeds. After I unintentionally flushed out the first dozen and seen them do their extraordinary instant take-off, I tried to paddle as quietly as I could. No matter. When I entered another bog without a sound, another two dozen ducks rose into the air en masse.

I suspect the warblers are now gone. Outside of the ducks, it was just me and the pond.

I wonder what it is exactly about being out in the kayak that makes me feel so good. When I lived in a city, walking 50 or more blocks at a time would knock any depression out of me. Getting out on the water seems to produce the same result, whereas taking a walk in the woods just doesn't do it. I suspect a part of it is a need for light. As to why it feels similar to taking a long walk in a city, well, maybe some of that is my curiosity about everything I see around me. Yes, a walk in the woods provides much for my viewing pleasure, but maybe I'm in need of something that feels more grandiose. But, I'm not up for serious climbing or hiking. I can kayak, and simply being able to, with the physical problems that I have, well, that alone makes me feel good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Having to do something

The "tea party" phenomenom is really starting to get to me. I should stop watching documentation of it on YouTube or wherever it pops up. No sense having my blood boil, or wallowing in sadness over what's going on.

Earlier today I thought, "What can I do?" Yesterday, I accidentally subjected myself to Limbaugh's asinine bemoaning that "this is Obama's America, folks!" when, ahem, talking about the school bus incident. Limbaugh's on a radio station that calls itself the "voice of Maine." Whose voice is it? Not mine. So, I sent a polite but angry e-mail to that effect, not that I think it'll make any sort of difference. Of course, if everyone who feels similarly to me wrote the station, it might.

Check out this short post by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Image note: We are indeed living in a kind of Alice in Wonderland, but without any of the charming witticisms. Those who would be happy living in a theocracy are calling the president a fascist. . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Once again, I am too tired to write a decent post. I've started two, and now they've been added to the growing collection of entries that will never be finished. Maybe I should reconsider my habit of writing at the end of the day. . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In need of first aid

After a few rough days emotionally and physically, I woke up this morning with more energy than I've felt in ages. It was beautiful out. As it was early, I eagerly put the new (used) kayak out on Freedom Pond. I had little time, so I explored the boggiest edges, meeting once again with unidentified fall warblers. A small flock of ducks noisily exploded out of the water as I turned away from the reeds, and a few cormorants skitted across the pond, which was as still as I've ever seen it. It was a perfect hour.

Last night, I watched a few short videos on kayaking for beginners. In one of them, it was advised that one always carry a waterproof first aid kit. For the kinds of paddling I like to do, this seems like overkill. I discovered there's a name for what I have recently discovered I love: "quiet water paddling." No white water thrills for this woman. For me, a thrill is discovering a tiny bird in a thicket.

As it turns out, I did need a first aid kit. No, I didn't even come close to tipping the kayak, even if it was new to me and I was trying strokes I learned from a YouTube video at 2:00am in the morning. I had a small accident while walking on the boat ramp. I was not running, nor turning, nor doing anything out of the ordinary. My right foot, which isn't small in the least, fell through a cement slat and I kept on going.

I was bloodied some and will probably develop a colorful collection of bruises. Yes, I could have used a first aid kit. I wrapped my bloody ankle with a few napkins that were in the car's glove box, loaded the kayak back into the car, and headed home to clean myself up and get ready for work.

Somehow, in spite of this, I doubt I'll put together a first aid kit. I will be more mindful about walking on boat ramps in future.

But more than anything, I wish I'd brought my binoculars.

Photo note: I feel certain that I saw a number of these female fall plumage Common Yellowthroats. I deduced this by the call note "tchat!" and the fact that in the Spring, I see many of their most colorful male counterparts on this pond.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's school pep talk (a surprise political post)

Yes, I'm late to this discussion. Last night, the president spoke about health care reform. But, I'm still thinking about his public address to students, and the fact that many schools, including the one just three miles from my house, chose to not watch it. In the two days since this happened, thinking about that fact, that all of the kids from grades K-12 were given the message that the President of the United States was making a speech that somehow was dangerous for them to hear, well, the thought of that has been nagging at me, and nagging at me hard.

I didn't hear the speech. I doubt any of these kids did, either. You can read it here.

It was a pep talk, and a most American patriotic pep talk indeed. Those people who were quivering in their boots thinking that this speech was the first step in the socialist indoctrination of children couldn't be further from the truth.

I could have told you that even before I read the speech, but that's beside the point.

I wonder if the co-worker Dick has who approved the school's decision not to air the speech even bothered to watch or read it after the fact. Somehow, I doubt it. Once people are on the willful track of ignorance, they tend to do an awful lot to keep things that way. I worry about the fact that there are people in the school system who are so ignorant. This principal of this K-12 brand new state-of-the-art building doesn't believe in evolution. And in the last sentence, I hesitated when I was about to type the word school; instead, I used the word "building."

Of course it is a school. But I am worried, and I didn't realize this until I was driving home last night from the Zen center. We were asked if we wanted to cut the evening short so we could all watch the President's speech. We didn't, but it got me thinking about how fractured attitudes have become.

During the campaign season, I thought, most hopefully, that because of conservative patriotism, the right-wing talk show hosts might tone down their rhetoric some after the election was over. I couldn't have been further from the truth. Now, I hear people compare Obama to Hitler at the General Store. I have been going in there less and less. And who would ever imagine a school not airing the President of the United States' talk to it's children? I don't care what president you're referring to. If G.W.Bush had deigned to give a pep talk, I'm sure it would have been watched. Just what is going on in this country? What are people so afraid of?

The nearby school was afraid that parents would complain if the speech was aired. I truly do not understand what is happening. The rural area I live in is rife with fear and anger, but when I listen, I can't understand it, mostly because it is so irrational. I certainly can understand irrationality, for I'm not immune, but this is stuff of science fiction madness. Fears about things like death panels and signs reading "Obama Lies Grandma Dies". . .it's as if all apocalyptic fear and general angst about a country that is going through rough times has been rolled up into one big ball and given a name that is "Obama." In the end, sadly, I think it still all comes down to an innate racism, a fear of the other, and that somehow we will lose an internalized (inaccurate and outdated) sense of this country as an all-white Christian nation.

Segueing into last night's speech, when I heard Obama say that all Americans have a responsibility to have health insurance, just like they have car insurance, I could imagine plenty of people around here yelling, "Damn no! I have a right to never go to a doctor!" When I was tattooing Downeast, amongst a lot of fishermen, I heard many folks proudly proclaim that they or other family members had never set foot in a doctor's office in their lives. There's nothing wrong with that if you're healthy. But, I also saw plenty of the same people who imposed this on their kids, or who were about as healthy as an elderly person at the age of 30. And sadly, many people die too young because if you never set foot in a doctor's office, a cancer that can be cured early was caught too late. Sure, you can fight for your right to live like that, but it's another form of ignorance, in my opinion.

I suppose the question is whether government should meddle in these affairs. Well, it already does. Most people do send their children to public school, for instance. And most poor people, when faced with catastrophic health issues, do wind up using government assistance.

I'm sad that things have gotten so out of hand. It makes me sad when I listen to talk radio and realize it's become even more the voice of the people I live amongst. I hear so much hatred and fear and it serves no one well. I'm sad that my belief that this kind of talk would simmer down wound up being a fairy tale. This last bit makes me realize that that these same self folks who have spoken so much of "patriotism" are, well, full of it. Driving a wedge through our society, speaking such bald-faced lies, drumming up and playing to fear, encouraging ignorance; none of these things are are patriotic. None of these things are what the dream of America is about. I may have issue with that American dream story, or the very notion of patriotism, but still, they are better than the alternative of the paranoid, hateful quasi-ideology the right has turned into. William F. Buckley Jr. must be turning over in his grave.

Image note: I'd like to attribute this to someone, but it's all over the Web, unattributed. Folks, you don't have to send your kids to public school. But, still, I don't get it. When I was a kid, we talked about current events every day in elementary school, had civics class, watched NASA launch rockets (a government program!), and we were taught to be "proud of our country." I may have issues with that, too, but there was a sense of the public good, and we were a part of it. What ever happened to that idea? I hear Obama trying to bring it back, and it seems absolutely right to me, but this (above) is what we hear as a counter. Please, someone, explain this to me. I just do not get it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today on and about Freedom Pond


No destination.
The pond tells me where to go.
A small gray-yellow bird meets me at the edge of the bog,
cocks its head, says "chip chip."

In the quiet, I feel honored to have heard the small sound.
I do not know the human name for this little marvel.


Just because it's natural doesn't mean I like to step in dog shit.
Just because there's no street doesn't mean you need not pick it up.


The Coast Guard folks throw themselves into the water with clothes on.
They test out new life jackets.
I pass two other paddlers, say hello.
"Fine day, isn't it?"
When I get back to the dock, a woman complains she can't get a signal on her cell phone.
I nod, though I'm thinking I'm glad I don't have one of those things.
She gets a signal, calls, and says she's run out of worms. She'd go to the store for more but someone is blocking her car.
That's me.
Why doesn't she just tell me?
I move my car, tie up the kayak, and go home.
Shit laden sandals are left by the door.


The images of the last post wound up as this one. I like it the best. Almost all my gestures have been eliminated, but not all.

I am reminded of driving in heavy fog. One can't see a thing, but it's all still there, and sometimes we see that which is not there. The same is true of this image.

Most people think art of this nature is nothing. Perhaps this is true, that it is nothing to look at, but I enjoy the process.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Thank you, Websafe, for reminding me that I had a Wacom tablet. Now, I've got to figure out how to use it without the wonderful software that I once had (Corel Painter).

The word "doodle" has awful connotations. Doodling is something one does when they're bored. I'm not bored. I could scribble for hours on end without becoming bored. Whether the viewer is bored or not, well, that's another matter. . .

The image above was originally the one at the top. I do love how computer doodling preserves the original imagery.

I find it interesting to note that if I was doing the same thing with a huge canvas and paint, I'd be considered to be seriously painting. Not so with this method. Then again, if I was doing the same thing in a notebook, I'd just be considered a wacko with a lot of time on my hands (which I just may be). Scale changes everything.

Pensive mid-day

Lately, I've had such a keen sense of the shortness of this life. Blink! Ten years have passed.

I think back to when I was young and how it seemed as if time just crawled along at a snail's pace. All kids think that, of course. "I can't wait until. . ."

It's silly, but I remember clearly thinking it was absurd how adults had so much trouble getting their Christmas cards and gifts ready in time. Why was it so hard for them? I didn't know we were working on different time schedules.

There's so much I haven't done in this lifetime that I doubt I'll get to. Some days I feel a stinging remorse for not appreciating the preciousness of everything, especially time "wasted."

Then again, remorse is a waste of time. It can be useful, to sharpen one's awareness of what to do in future (and in the moment), but generally I find it's only depressing and mostly an exaggeration of negative memory. There's no reason for me to think I've "wasted my life." Sure, I could have done so many things differently, or "better", but I'm starting to think it's only my tendency towards seeing everything through a dark lens that makes me think this. Plenty of people have done less with their lives and feel perfectly fine.

I often wonder why I've lacked the drive to make my mark in the world. I look at people with enormous ambition and ask myself what makes them tick. I really don't know.

When I was 18, I wanted to show the world that a girl could play electric guitar fast and mean. Where was "the world"? I suppose New York City was good enough. Others keep on. I never felt like I had more to say than that simple thing which seemed so hard. Once accomplished (in my way), I moved on.

That's how it's been. I marvel at how some people sink their teeth into one thing for life and never let go. Not having done that, it's hard to see what the past has been, at least for me.

What is a life? Most of us are not Nobel prize winners, directors of films, authors of books, artists who have forged new styles, architects who have designed buildings, discoverers of new vaccines, curers of disease. Someone once told me there is no such thing as a small life, but a part of me doesn't believe that. . .I should work a bit harder to make that voice quiet down.

Image note: Another little collage I made.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Card number two


Dragonflies are beautiful when you're outside. I love being on the water and seeing them whiz by. Right now, I'm not sitting in my usual spot. Why not? There's a dragonfly on my sofa. Inside the house, it seems huge.

I first heard it, but had no idea what it was. I thought there was an electrical short in the kitchen. I got up to look, rather alarmed. There were no sparks. What was going on?

My cat was in a corner, twitching her tail, her eyes trained on something I could not see myself. Then the dragonfly swooped into the living room. I'd just watched a show about a giant insect. I could nearly have been that. Really, these creatures don't belong inside one's house.

I turned on the light near the door to the outside world, but the creature (I mean dragonfly) will not budge from the sofa. The cat came into the room, keeping her eyes on it, and now is sitting right next to it. She is not trying to play with it, eat it, kill it, or anything like that. She is alternating between just looking at it quizzically and closing her eyes into slits as cats do when they are most satisfied.

She just sniffed it, and went back to just sitting next to the thing.

I am quizzical myself.

It just took flight. The door is open, but this house has some twists and turns and many corners to get stuck in.

I put the hood up on my sweatshirt. I paused a moment before typing that. It's absurd, but I don't want the dragonfly to land on my head. Perhaps what stopped the cat from trying to kill it is the same thing that caused me to cover my head; the tail of the elegant dragonfly, up close, is nearly reptilian. I know they're harmless, but I can't convince my brain that this is so.

But what about the cat? I realize that I've seen her try to kill a snake. What was going on here tonight between cat and dragonfly?

I have no idea. All I know is that I need to end this here, even though this episode is not over. I'm afraid it will end with me finding a dead dragonfly in the morning, but we'll see. . .

Photo note: Behold the frightening environs from which the creature emerged.

"Artist's trading cards"

I've been meaning to post some of these little playing card collages I've made. They don't photograph all that well. There's so much layering of reflective material that it distorts the colors a lot. Well, never mind. I figured I'd go ahead and post at least one. More to come. . .

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vegetarian chopped liver

I found a recipe for vegetarian chopped liver that was once served at the "Famous Diary Restaurant" on 72nd Street in New York City. It was a great restaurant. I used to go their for their pierogi, but I believe I did have some of what they called "mock chopped liver." If it was bad, I'd remember. My memory is elusive, but perhaps this is where I did have the faux liver that I once thought was so good. Here's the recipe, and yes, it does need a food processor to make:

3 chopped onions, cooked slowly in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until golden brown.
2 cups of cooked green beans
1 3/4 cups cooked peas
3 hard boiled eggs
20 Tam Tams or other salty crackers
salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a food processor and process until well mixed.

I bet it tastes more like my grandmother's recipe with some celery or celery seeds thrown in. If someone tries this recipe, I'd like a report. Not much to it, is there?

Image note (if you can call it that): I was going to post a picture of chopped liver, but y'know, it really looks like a pile of poop. Here's a link to the Wikipedia page on the expression "Oy vey", which I spelled wrong. Who knew? Obviously, not I.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Paddling (and not writing about nature)

I put the kayak in the water and started paddling. I scanned the edges of the lake and saw many houses, which was a disappointment, but as I started to make my s l o w crawl across the body of water, I could see there was an island smack dab in the middle of the whole thing. It looked so far away. I wondered whether I could actually get there and back without exhausting myself. Then, I realized it didn't matter if I got there. I would just paddle and see what happened.

I did make it to the island, and circled around it. A kingfisher came chattering out of nowhere (as they always do), but louder than normal; it was chasing a kestrel. I wonder why.

Imagine that sound, only louder and faster.

This was the second time this week I've gone kayaking, and only the third time in my life. I felt as if I was meant to do this. I need it. The act of paddling quietly alone in a little boat feels so much like meditation. I am confronted with my aches and pains, but I move through them as I move through the water. Ideas of "getting somewhere" (such as that little island) feel like impediments. If I just focus on each dip of the paddle in the water, I'll get where I need to be.

I've been asked why I don't write about nature more. I thought about this each time I took the kayak out. On Tuesday, I saw two mature male bald eagles and a few black ducks. Heard the cry of a loon. Moved the boat through thick bog and the last of the summer's water lilies.

I have no more to say about any of this than what I've written above; barely more than a laundry list. What can I say about the birds, the glistening rocks, the expanse of sky and water? All I can say is that I find it all awesome in the true sense of the word. I am awe struck. Even a passing dragonfly causes me to smile broadly.

If I were to write about nature in future, I'd probably choose to use poetry. I'd like to write more about why this is, but I'm tired, sun burnt, and should have been asleep at least two hours ago.

There is a disconnect lately between life and blogging. Memories seem to be the stuff I can write about; I hope to write more posts about food. It's such a rich topic - memories of meals, restaurants, favorite foods both given up and still loved. But nature? No. I need to keep it what it is for me - something that just is, that needn't be analyzed, and that certainly needs nothing extra (such as my thoughts about it).

Photo note: A Belted Kingfisher.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chopped Liver

"Whudda ya think I am, chopped liver?"

This is an expression I grew up hearing, and have uttered on occasion, much to the puzzlement of most listeners. I suppose it's like asking someone if they think you're as stupid as a house plant. I dunno. I never thought about its meaning, only it's usage, and that it isn't an expression one hears in New England, and perhaps one doesn't hear it in New York these days either. Maybe it's been uttered in a Woody Allen movie. Probably has been.

I loved chopped liver when I was a kid. My grandmother made fantastic chopped liver. We ate it on Ritz crackers as an appetizer at most family get-togethers, especially Thanksgiving. The rest of the meal may have been the same as every other family in America, but there was no Thanksgiving without Grandma Nettie's chopped liver.

Sadly, I've forgotten the recipe, which I was the chosen recipient of. Not that it's a recipe exactly. . ."you put some onions in the pan. . .let them brown but not too much. . ." How many onions? Depends on how you're feeling at the moment. I believe there was uncooked minced celery in the chopped liver, but it's rather sad how I've forgotten. My grandmother may have acted as if she wasn't fond of me, but she thought I was a good cook, and showed me how to make this dish and use the meat grinder. Both things felt like a great honor.

I'm sure there's a debate about this, but to me a good chopped liver is chopped chicken liver, with absolutely no disgusting beef liver in it anywhere. It's rather odd even writing about this stuff, for I really can't imagine eating it nowadays. I haven't even touched a chicken liver when we cook chicken in the house, but when I was growing up that little liver was a big treat we'd fight over. Thank goodness we were a three person family. My mother would place the precious liver in a piece of tin foil with a bit of soy sauce instead of just using salt. The outside would become crisp and highly salty while the inside of the liver remained soft. Oy! It was good stuff. We also ate deep fried chicken livers from The Poultry Mart, a cholesterol nightmare that scared me a little even before we all become more health conscious.

Then I became a vegetarian and those delicious livers left my life. I haven't been a vegetarian now for about 16 years, but I still can't fathom eating the liver of any animal. I wonder if I'd still find it so fantastic. I remember stuffing myself silly on chopped chicken liver and Ritz crackers. There was something totally transporting about eating the stuff, but now it's all lost to memory. And I was good at making it; the last few years that both my mother and grandmother were alive, we played switcheroo with her stuff. She had lost either her sense of smell and taste (or both), no one knew, and the stuff just wasn't the same any more. One year it smelled like it had gone bad. Not to worry, however. We'd throw out Grandma's and substitute it with the stuff I had made. It was a big secret, one that I at first didn't mind going along with, but when my Grandmother and others started saying the liver tasted better then ever my teenage-self wanted some would squirm in her seat, just dying to take some well-deserved credit.

I knew my chopped chicken liver well, once upon a time.

The now-gone 2nd Avenue Deli in New York City made good chopped liver sandwiches and once in a while I'd go there for one. I loved that place. It was homey, and had wonderful matzoh ball soup. I preferred the pastrami and corned beef at Katz's but when I was living in NYC, I considered it too dangerous a neighborhood to venture into at night just for a bite to eat. Now, I still adore their deli meat, but I hate the tourists, even if I'm one of the them, and all that crush of people.

Wait a minute. Back to chopped liver.

One thing about the old New York delis is that the employees were crabby. That was the way they were, the way they were supposed to be, their thing, their schtick. Truth be told, I rather hated that tradition. I grew up surrounded by crabby people who kvetched all the time. So, I took great pleasure in finally giving one of these deli people a good gotcha! moment* without any kvetching or the raising of voices (I am a very soft spoken person).

It was over a chopped liver sandwich. I could taste it; it had beef in it, and there on the menu it said "Chopped Chicken Liver on Rye." I called the waiter over, something I am loathe to do (oh, I have many stories about times I haven't called the waiter over). I said, "there's beef in here." "Oh no. There can't be. It's chicken liver", said the waiter (probably in more colorful language). I stood firm and held my ground. I wanted to send it back but he wanted to charge me because the 2nd Avenue Deli never put beef in their chicken liver, not ever. We went back and forth for some time, almost to the point of saying "yes there is" - "no there isn't" like a bunch of little kids. Finally, he agreed to go into the kitchen and talk to the cook. They made their chopped chicken liver fresh every day.

I didn't expect any honesty, to be honest. But, back came the waiter, looking sheepish. "You were right", he said. Evidentally, they didn't have enough chicken livers that day, so the cook threw some beef into the mix figuring no one would notice. I sure did. One thing I've always hated is beef liver. Liver and onions? I'd rather keel over with hunger than eat the stuff.

So, I had a bowl of matzoh soup and got my money back. The waiter came over and said something about me being a really nice young Jewish girl who knew her liver, and every time I came in after that, I was treated like a special guest.

In those old delis, you had to prove you were a good patron. That was another thing I used to dislike, but now I have some nostalgia for those days. Still, in all, I can't imagine eating a chicken liver, but I'm tempted.

Photo note: A picture of chopped liver would be unpleasant. It's not a pretty food. Instead, here's a bowl of matzoh ball soup, with a big matzoh ball (obviously). A post about this soup will surely follow. . .

Addendum: When I married, I brought a bowl of chopped liver and a box of Ritz crackers to my new parents in-law's home. Appetizers at their place were called "cocktails." My mother-in-law looked at in with suspicion. "What shall I do with it?" she asked. Hey, she was from Utah, and it is an ugly dish of food.

*To illustrate the importance of the "gotcha moment" with a delicatessen waiter, I offer the following joke, which needs a voice, pacing, hand gestures, and a Yiddish accent to deliver properly. Still, it isn't actually a funny joke, but it is a telling one, of one way a customer "got" a waiter. I've embellished it some for print:

Every day this man comes into the delicatessen for a bowl of matzoh ball soup. The soup is heavenly. He can think of nothing else he'd rather have and no one remembers him ever ordering anything else. He doesn't even bother ordering any more. Every waiter in the place knows what he's having: matzoh ball soup. That's it.

So, the guy comes in precisely at 6:15, just like he always does, and sits down at the same little table halfway between the front door and the deli counter. He always faces the street. A waiter brings him his soup, doesn't bother saying anything, and walks away. Customers come in and go and the man has not touched his soup. Finally, he speaks up. "Waiter, come taste my soup", he says. The waiter scurries over, annoyed. This guy's never complained about anything. Feh! "Why should I taste the soup? It's the same as ever" he says. "No" says the man, "Just taste the soup."

There's a pause. The waiter straightens his back and begins to explain how there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with the soup and how it's been made the same way every day for forty years. If anyone should know it, it's this guy. "I said, taste the soup" says the guy. "Buddy, I'm telling you. There's nothing wrong with the soup" says the waiter. He's getting disgusted and there's other people waiting to order.

"Okay. Listen to me. I'm going to say this one last time and you're going to do it. Taste the soup!" The nebbishy fellow has really raised his voice, which is a big surprise, and the other customers are looking his way. The waiter figures, what the heck, he'll taste it, no big deal. "Okay", he says, "I'll taste it."

He leans over. The broth is fragrant. He knows the soup is good. He reaches for the spoon. Where's the spoon? Is the man holding it? What's the deal here? And so, he says, "Buddy, where's the spoon?"

The man turns his tired eyes up towards to waiter and looks him square in the face. He raises his hand, which has no spoon in it. He points a finger at the waiter, and then pokes him in the chest, and says, "Gotcha!"

That's it, folks. The old no-spoon joke. Never was funny, but fun to tell. The punch line is a let down, but it's the story that counts. For those who's ever been in an old Jewish sit-down deli, it makes perfect sense.

Addendum and Correction: The 2nd Avenue Deli reopened in another location. You shouldn't trust this ex-New Yorker with her information! It's at 162 East 33rd Street (near 3rd Avenue).