Monday, June 30, 2014

In Praise of Taproot Magazine

I make my home in a huge, noisy city and am raising two teenagers. I carve out necessary peace for myself in a variety of ways. I take pictures. I make collages. I also read Taproot Magazine.

I've been a magazine reading person for 40 years. I've enjoyed the intellectual, the lowbrow, the practical, the fanciful, the feminist and the fashionable. There's usually a stack of magazines near my bed. I especially like reading them when I'm almost ready to go to sleep, or at breakfast time.

Taproot is different from all of these. Four lovely times a year it arrives, inviting me to slow down, savor and retreat a little. There is something powerful about a magazine that can do this.

Taproot is lush and gorgeous. There are beautiful photographs and illustrations that range from quietly contemplative to riotously colorful in palette and texture. There is a lot to feast your eyes on here.

It doesn't take long to realize what is missing from this magazine. There is no advertising. Taproot is independently published. It's wall-to-wall articles, art, poetry, patterns and recipes. The words that keep coming to mind are “static free.” Reading Taproot is a static free experience.

One of my favorite things to do is pore over the Contributors pages. The people who write and create art for Taproot are a fascinating group of farmers, city dwellers, travelers, people living off the grid and plugged in.  There are authors, painters, herbalists and bakers. People seem to have multiple projects in different modalities going at once. I love reading these teeny biographies and look forward to creating time for myself to check out their blogs, books and websites.

It's all about handmade vs. mass produced, slow vs. harried, growing rather than tearing down.

In many ways, Taproot and I are an unlikely friendship. I love the farmers market, but do not want to grow the food myself. I'm not tempted to knit anything called a Lola Shawl or a Northport Baby Blanket. I don't want to live in a Yurt, homestead or make my own Sauerkraut.

On the other hand, my husband's family has a place in the country and I look forward to tending a tiny rectangle of an herb garden later this season. Jeremy and I are excited to try making infused liquors to spike summer cocktails. I love reading about how other people live, and think of many of the articles as mini-memoirs. This may be the very essence of where Taproot and I overlap.

Life can be harried. It can be stressful. If you're anything like me, Taproot can provide an antidote to the subway platform, the email, the traffic jam and the obnoxious PTA meeting. It's really good. Give it a try.

For more information: Taproot Magazine

The collage accompanying this article was crafted using color copies of pages from Taproot Issues #9 and #10. I made color copies because I didn't want to cut up my issues.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


I used to do still life photography. I photographed everything inside of my home or studio. I would set it all up. I controlled the lights. Everything in the picture was of my doing. I loved it.

For someone detail oriented like me, what's not to love?  I might just do still life photography again someday. Not the same way as before because I'm in a different place. The world is also in a different place.

I didn't take pictures of any kind for a long time. The one exception was pictures of my kids. They were the typical kinds of pictures everyone takes. That said, I think they were above average kid snapshots because of my background.

About three years ago, I started photographing things outdoors. For whatever reason, I noticed beauty everywhere when I hadn't before. I did not bring my old 4x5 camera outdoors. That's still sitting in its box. I use the iPhone camera now.

If you only know me from this blog, I'm going to admit something to you openly. I take some pretty weird pictures now. I'm not ashamed of it. But the kind of odd photography I do takes some expert management.

I photograph crumpled bags, banana peels and discarded boxes that look just so for my Beautiful Trash Series. I like to get up close and personal with textured bricks, peeling paint and things that look like they need fixing. I photograph weeds and call that project Hardscrabble Plants.

For most people, seeing someone take a picture with their Smartphone of the Empire State Building, a sunset or my child wearing a cap and gown is not at all strange. This is business as usual for normal people.

But getting down low on the sidewalk to photograph a perfect pattern of crabgrass growing out of a crack in the pavement is potentially noteworthy. It is socially unexpected.

I handle this admittedly eccentric behavior in a variety of ways.

Sometimes I get lucky. I'll be walking down an empty street. That scenario is awesome, but rare.

I rely on speed. I've really changed in this regard. When I was a still life photographer, I was slow as molasses. This was fine. I've always been methodical. People were paying me to be this way.

My life experience has taught me to think on my feet. I'm that person you want around in an emergency now. And so it is with my photography. If I see something incredible, I don't pussyfoot around. I try to get in and out before anyone notices.

Sometimes I engage with people. I explain that I'm an artist. If the person asks me why I am doing this, I have a quick little elevator speech to give them. Sometimes I'll even show them the picture, if they're interested.

I find that if there is one weird thing that you do, it helps to be absolutely normal in every other way. People also get used to you. This is NYC. There are weirder folks than me.

Other times, I'll make a mental note of something beautiful and go back when it's just rained and people are inside. Sometimes, I'll just let it go. It's okay. I am not wanting for material

Cold weather can be challenging for a lot of reasons, but for the kind of photography I do, it's a good thing. People are not standing around aimlessly on the street. They are also not sitting together in folding chairs and staring vacantly.  They're either somewhere warm or walking quickly.

There is one scenario where I get to take a break from all of this. When I take photographs of flowers, I can go ahead and disregard everything I do when I take pictures of trash, weathered shutters or dents in cars. That is because other people think that photographing flowers is normal.

When I photograph flowers, people will give me a little smile as they walk by. I don't have to worry about how many people are around. Sometimes people will engage in small bits of conversation about the flowers and how beautiful they are. That's because everyone agrees that flowers are beautiful.

Of course, every situation has an exception. In addition to the flowers I photograph at their peak of loveliness, I've taken to photographing flowers that are dead or almost dead. The series is called Past Their Prime. When I'm working on that, I implement all of the methods I've disclosed above.

This is not a problem for me. Old, shriveled up flowers and waterlogged newspapers stuck to the sidewalk have a lot in common. For most people, they are an acquired taste, like caviar or escargots. I get that.

If I ever get sick of rushing, waiting or explaining, I have a plan B. I'll quickly clip the dead flowers and bring them inside. Once I'm in my apartment, I can do pretty much whatever I like.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The School Uniform

This morning I was doing the laundry. It was a day like so many others. Sort. Load. Dry. Along with everything else I had several of Noah's school uniform pants and cardigans to wash. Except for the fact that this was the last time I'd be washing and drying these particular clothes, there is nothing remarkable to report.

I didn't wake up today thinking I was going to write about this. To be honest, I was going to write about something else.

But washing and drying Noah's school uniforms for the last time got me into a particular mood that seemed to dominate everything else there is to say. So I'm going with this topic today.

Three years ago, Noah and I took a tour of the school that would eventually become his middle school. The assistant principal led the tour. Here at MS324, we dress for success, she said.

Noah and I both loved this school. The science room was full of small animals in tanks and cages. Noah almost refused to leave that room during the tour. It was a warm and welcoming place. There were things that impressed Noah. There were things that as a mother made me feel secure and comfortable.

After Noah was officially matched with this school, they had an orientation for new families. That is where we learned the particulars of dressing for success. If you are a boy at MS324, this means a white button down shirt, navy blue pants, a black belt, and a navy buttoned cardigan. You needed to wear dark socks and shoes, except on gym days, when you were allowed to wear sneakers.

Noah had never worn anything remotely like this in his entire life.

Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to fabrics and clothes. Noah has always had preferences too.  I noticed early on, that he had stronger likes and dislikes than most other people.

There was no uniform policy at his elementary school. Noah dressed for comfort. He liked soft or silky things to wear. Before he could wear anything, I had to wash it first, which made hand me downs from cousins especially appealing. He wore a lot of soft cotton, velour, fluffy sweatpants and silky athletic wear.

So the summer before middle school I set about researching clothes that fit the requirements. I knew that I would not be buying Noah's school uniform pieces from Target. When I checked them out, I noticed that the fabrics there were very scratchy.

Part of my job as a parent is figuring out what to throw money at and what to economize on. My children have attended public school and except for the supply list, this is largely free of charge. However, I would need to find a uniform for Noah that would not drive him crazy. In other words, I might have to purchase some very expensive school clothes for him.

I started my mission in July. I approached it with a firm plan. I'd done my research. I spoke with customer service representatives from several different stores. I asked them about colors, weaves and thread counts.

Plan A, was to order two different styles of white button down shirts from Land's End. Same with the pants and the cardigans. This was not the cheapest option. But it wasn't the most expensive either.

If Noah could accept any of the choices from Land's End, then that would be our answer. I would then order four more of everything. But if Noah reacted very badly to these clothes, I had another idea up my sleeve.

Plan B would be to take Noah to Brooks Brothers. This was clearly the most pricey but most refined option. And if wearing navy pants and a white shirt would set my son up for success at his new school, it stood to reason that sending him there outfitted in clothes fit for a rich CEO might be dressing him for extra success.

When the shipment came from Lands End, I helped him try on variations on all of the elements. Noah had clear preferences. But it appeared that Noah would be able to tolerate these mid-priced fabrics.

But that wasn't the end of it. Just because Noah could tolerate this uniform didn't mean he was used to it. By the time Noah started school, he needed to be absolutely comfortable in the uniform. There would be many new things to get used to at MS324. The uniform needed to be a non- issue.

I washed all of the uniforms I'd ordered. I asked my mom for advice on fabric softening. She's also the one who turned me on to OxyClean. I was wondering what I was ever going to do about my 10-year-old rough and tumble kid wearing a white shirt.

I then set about acclimating Noah to the uniform without upsetting him. The first day, he wore it for 20 minutes. We quickly worked up to an hour. Then, eventually he was comfortable in it for an entire day.

I had Noah play and lead his normal life in the uniform. This included gaming at the computer, eating pizza, lying around reading and running around outside. I didn't worry about how dirty the uniform got. Boys need to get dirty. Also, my mother had given me stellar advice about washing these clothes.

My mother irons everything. But she did have a trick she shared with me. She said that if you take clothes right out of the dryer, and put them right on a hanger, they will look almost as good as if you ironed them.

For three years this is exactly what I did. For someone who has never had any great interest in fabric care, laundry or dressing for success, I have to say I really rose to the occasion. Noah was not only comfortable at school, he looked really put together. Everything was crisp, creased and clean.

He wore the exact same clothes for his entire time at MS324. When he wore through the knees of his pants, I ordered new ones. When he outgrew the clothes I ordered bigger versions of the same thing. There was a silver lining to all of this dressing for success. Noah is a person, who by and large, enjoys a great deal of consistency. He loves knowing what to expect. Having an extremely predictable set of clothes agreed with him very much.

The uniform was not the only thing that agreed with him at MS324. On the first day of school, Noah's 6th grade homeroom and math teacher walked him out at dismissal and said they'd had a beautiful day. I knew then and there that we had found the right school for him.

Noah has spent the last three years with amazing, inspiring teachers. He's soaked in a school culture that is structured but warm and has made many friends. He has maintained a straight A average. He's been kept safe. I've never once worried about dropping him off there. There are too many good things about this place to list here.

Recently, I set my sights on an 8th grade graduation outfit for Noah. I ordered a button down shirt and pants that are just like his school uniform, but in snazzier colors. I got him a silky tie. In deference to the idea that the other boys would be wearing jackets, I got him a cheap, plain one from Target. I figured I wasn't going to spend more than 25 dollars on something he'd only wear once.

It turns out that I was wrong about the jacket.

After some initial, mild complaints about the tie choking him, Noah enjoyed his formal attire more than I anticipated. As he strutted about, I noticed a new confidence and glimpses of the man he will turn into.

The graduation outfit seemed pretty transformative.

When it was time to go to prom, he insisted on the tie, as well as the jacket. For the first time, Noah was more into how he looked than how the fabric felt.

As Noah and I left together to meet his classmates at prom, he gave himself one last admiring glance in the mirror. Then he set out to conquer the world.

Noah will be starting 9th grade in the fall. The high school does not have a uniform policy. Come July, Noah and I will be discussing school clothes. I will ask him how he will want to dress. He can wear the casual clothes he wears on weekends. If he likes, he can dress up more and I'll be happy to order button down shirts, pants, ties, and a couple more jackets. Finally, he'll have the option of dressing for success the same way he has since 6th grade. In that case, I'll order new versions in bigger sizes. He's 13 and growing like a weed.

Monday, June 16, 2014

My One-Sided Friendship

Today I came to the realization that I am engaged in a one-sided friendship. I've known for quite some time that there was something different about my relationship with this friend. For whatever reason today was the day the puzzle pieces fit together. A light bulb went off in my head.

Every other friendship I have is reciprocal. I'm not talking about a sense of Even Steven or Tit for Tat. I’m not talking you scratch my back and I'll scratch your back. I'm not even saying what comes around goes around.

But all of my other friends and I enjoy some sort of mixture of giving and receiving. We might be giving and receiving different things because of the talents we bring to the table. When one person is going through a crisis the other one is giving more. But there is a basic friendship circle happening between these people and myself.

This is true of my casual and my deeper friendships.

If you are wondering or worried that the one--sided friend I am talking about is you, then I'm here to say that it probably isn't you. Mathematics alone makes this extremely unlikely.

If you are a perfect stranger who is reading my blog, then you can rest assured that you are not the one-sided friend. In order to fit that description, we would need to actually be friends.

Lets say we are friends. Just the very idea that you are reading this and going over our friendship in your mind pretty much rules you out. The friend I am talking about either doesn't like to do this type of thinking or isn't capable of it.

I am not going to say if the one-sided friend is a man or a woman. I am not going to say how long I've known this friend. Or whether this is a face-to-face friendship, an exclusively Facebook friendship, or a combination.

I'm not going to say if the friend is related to me by blood, if I initiated the friendship or they did. If they live in proximity to me or far away.

I'm also not saying if they are married or single, are childless, pregnant or with many children or one child. Whether they have a few friends or many.

I'm not telling whether this writing is about one -person or is actually a combination of people I've been friends with over the years. Whether it is literal or allegorical.

But let's say it's about a very specific person. In that case, I'm not going to go into details about the nature of this one sided friendship. It would be a great deal of trouble for me to do that.

First I would have to think of some specific incidents underscoring our one-sided friendship. Then, in order to disguise the identity of the one-sided friend, I would need to change all of the details.

I thought seriously about doing that. For a little while, I really got into changing the real details to things that never happened. Mythically beautiful summers on the Cape. Pledging for the same sorority and only one of us getting in.

I was going to name the friend Lilliana.

In the end, I just decided to scrap the idea of fleshing the story out.

I have some clarity now that I didn't have before. I began to think deeply about the one sided friendship while I was on the subway. I do some of my best thinking there. The one thing I will say unequivocally is that the one-sided friend is all about the one-sided friend.

I assumed earlier that the one-sided friend didn't like me much. I thought the friendship would die on the vine. For whatever reason, this did not happen. Like cats, this friendship seems to have nine lives. It appears that the one-sided friend likes our one-sided friendship.

I'm not going to talk to the one-sided friend about our friendship. I'm not going to talk to the one-sided friend's friends about the one sided friend either.

Here is what I decided to do about the one-sided friend.

I'm not going to end the one-sided friendship. I am not going to deepen the one-sided friendship. I am not going to initiate anything with the friend. I'm not going to ignore the one-sided friend's overtures.

I'm going to keep on being the one-sided friend's friend. Say what you want about my friend. The friend is very interesting. The fact that this is a one-sided friendship doesn't change that.

In addition, the one-sided friend could probably use a friend like me.

I have decided to make some rules. I don't want to get into a pattern with one-sided friendships. I believe that one one-sided friend is enough. Quite possibly one one-sided friend is more than enough. That remains to be seen.

If I make a new friend and realize after a time that this too is a one sided friendship, then I will cross that bridge when I come to it. But one of them will have to go. Which one, under what criteria, and the mechanics of it will have to be determined. I'm not going to worry about it now.

I can afford unlimited numbers of reciprocal, more or less healthy friendships but only one one-sided friend.

This is how I plan to manage my one-sided friendship. I'm going to cultivate an attitude of no expectations. I'm going to accept the friend for the person they are. I'm going to practice a state of non-attachment to what friendship is about with other friends, and the very definition of friendship. Because I've agreed to have this one one-sided friend, I'm not comparing them to my better friends.

I'm going to see how it goes. Like many things, it is a grand experiment. It might work out and I may learn a few things in the process.

On the other hand, I'm no Buddhist. I'm saying that right out of the starting gate. In a day, a week, a month or a year, I could be singing a very different tune. In which case, the number of one-sided friendships will be zero.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

You Should Read The Rosie Project

I just finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This is a great book. Here is why I think you will love it too.

You will become very pleasantly lost in the storytelling. This is a difficult book to put down.  Ayelet Waldman wrote one of the testimonials that appear on the book jacket. She loved it so much that she read it in a single sitting. Someone else called it compulsively readable. If you are a binge reader, then this is the page-turner for you.

My sense of humor gets me through a lot. This book is hilarious.

But The Rosie Project isn't just funny. The characters are realistically and poignantly drawn. They get into situations you wonder how they will get out of. You feel like you're old friends by the time you've finished this book. I wanted to hang out with people from The Rosie Project.  I had to keep reminding myself: This is fiction.

Don Tillman is the main character. He is extremely appealing, bright, creative and resourceful. He also has Asperger’s Syndrome. He's self aware and nuanced. His unique way of experiencing the world creates difficulties sometimes. It also makes him special. And brilliant.

There is a saying I've heard again and again. If you've met one person with Asperger’s Syndrome, you've met one person with Asperger’s syndrome. Don Tillman is not a stereotype. He's his own person. He's an individual who happens to not be typical. I found this very relatable.

If you possess any kind of difference that makes you seem like an outlier, then I think you will love this book. It's inspiring and optimistic and real.

If you have someone important in your life who marches to the beat of their own drum, then you will love and find comfort in it his book. Even as you notice the differences between the quirky person you love and Don Tillman, you'll gain understanding and insight anyway. This is what happened to me.

Let's say you were the head cheerleader in high school and married the star football player. Your friends are neurotypical. Your children are popular. I think you will like this book too. But more importantly, maybe you really need to read it. You especially.

One of my teenagers read it at the same time as me, and loved it as much as I did. The other teen is planning to read it. It's great for teens without screaming YA book.

It's also romantic without being Chick Lit. You'll love it guys. Really.

You will feel sorry when the book ends, but there is good news. Graeme Simsion is already working on a sequel. Once it comes out, I will buy it right away. I will not be reserving this at the library. I will not want to be on a waiting list for the next one.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Present Tense

Your petal pink cheeks and translucent skin.
I show you off in pastels, seersucker and creamy white.
I can already see your future face
In the chisel of your profile
And the sweep of your freshly combed hair.

The burbling brook that is your laugh.
Your sweet sugar kisses that are dry, not sloppy.
The way you slap books closed that don't pass muster.
The way you greet the morning full on and ready.

There were times I signed for flower arrangements.
Dutifully displayed their cloying blooms, then watched them die.
There were times for remembering and reminiscing.
For lighting candles and vigils.
Times when I did you honor by doing good.
Times when I fell short.

This is not that day.
Today, you are as present as my hand, my face, your brother and sister.
The sound of your voice is my happy earworm.
The granny smith apples peeled and waiting.
Your favorite music cued and ready.
Your sneakers, untied and there to receive you.

The collage accompanying this piece was assembled from color copies of Jacob’s clothes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Say His Name

One recent Sunday, Hannah, Noah and I made our way to Clinton Cove Park for the 5th Annual Hope & Heroes Walk. Every year, Jeremy and I form a team to honor our son Jacob. For those of you reading my writing for the first time, Jacob died several years ago from childhood cancer. Jeremy was already at the walk because this is a busy workday for him.

We were wearing our Team Jacob tee shirts. Jeremy lovingly designs a team shirt every year, with my input, around a theme we both come up with. This year's theme was a waffle, one of Jacob's favorite foods. Jeremy developed a very special high calorie, nutritious recipe for Jacob because during treatment, he needed to gain weight. The recipe appears on the back of our shirt.

As the three of us approached the event, we noticed the usual number of enthusiastic volunteers. Most were extroverted young women, and all were smiling widely and cheering as walkers entered the balloon festooned event. They clearly were having a great time, making happy spectacles of themselves, wearing shiny wigs and other colorful accessories.

As our little party of three got closer, the cheering and clapping grew louder. Go Team Jacob! They screamed. They waved their pom poms and jumped up and down. My teenagers found the scene a little overwhelming and cringe worthy. I loved it. I waved and clapped and cheered for ourselves, Jacob, and the day, which was brilliantly sunny.

Last Year's event was marked by bone chilling torrential rain, but the same number of volunteers were out then, cheering and encouraging, making me feel better than a celebrity on the red carpet.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the walk.

Since I've noticed before how much I love the cheering sections, there was no mystery that I would enjoy it again this year. But there was something about the thrill of electricity I got when they shouted the words Team Jacob that made me a bit more thoughtful about it.

It wasn't until the next day, when the busyness and excitement let up a little, that I realized what was going on. The jolt of happiness was all about hearing his name. I heard the name Jacob from the cheering section. I heard the name Jacob in conversation as we walked. I saw the word Jacob on signs, tee shirts and stickers. His name was everywhere. I could see it. I could hear it.

When you have children, people ask you about them all the time. You take hearing their names for granted. They ask you how they are doing in school, what they are doing for the summer. Their names are banded about casually, many times a day. I enjoy talking about Hannah and Noah in all sorts of ways. When children are alive, there is always something new to report.

But when your child dies, the name you so lovingly chose, the one you proudly shared on a birth announcement and party invitations, heard called at the Pediatrician, later the hospital, and finally the memorial service can seem conspicuously absent.

You learn quickly after the child dies, that the name of the child you still love, can silence a room of people and startle those not expecting to hear that you are the mother of three. Many people haven't gotten the memo that it is okay to talk about this child.

The Hope & Heroes Walk is not the only place I feel comfortable saying Jacob's name, but it is one of the easiest and best.

Jeremy and I have attended various bereavement retreats and support groups since Jacob died. These have been lifelines for us. They are places where it is completely normal and encouraged to talk about your child who died.

At one of the groups, they have a tradition of everyone in the group holding hands and each person saying the name of their deceased child. If there are 30 people in the room, I have a sense of mass tragedy by the time everyone is finished. That is because that is exactly what it is.

I think that this is a poignant and important thing to do. At the same time, it leaves me devastated. I'm like a dishrag by the end. Then it is over. Going to lunch and socializing after such an experience feels surreal.

The walk stands in contrast to this. I'm not saying that the walk is better than the support group. There is clearly a place for both in my life.

The walk reminds me so much of Jacob himself. Jacob was a very sunny person and a social butterfly. He was popular and well liked. Everywhere he went, people were happy to see him. And he was happy to see them.

That larger than life personality of his reminds me of the cheering sections, the upbeat music, the sun of 2014, the driving rain of 2013. Seeing doctors and nurses there, even though if they aren't from his medical team, remind me of him.

People who actually knew Jacob are very special to me. Many of these important to Jacob and important to me folks are there. As we walk alongside them and share snacks and conversation after the walk, I'm reminded of their relationship with him. The ones who brought him toys. The ones who babysat in the hospital. The one who played music and danced with him. The ones who kept us company in the surgical waiting room.

Jacob was no shrinking violet. Walking around with enormous signs with his name and favorite food emblazoned on them is quite appropriate. If he were shy, I feel like we'd have to represent him in a quieter way.

I'm not much into sports like baseball and football, but forming Team Jacob and doing something positive as a team feels natural. I am much better at raising funds to help kids with cancer than I am at pitching or tackling people.

Like many sporting events, there is a healthy and fun sense of competition between teams. But here, there is also a sense of everyone rooting for and supporting one another. Team Jacob, Team Sienna and Xander’s Orange Crush have different stories, but the same goal.

There is some sadness underpinning this event because let's face it: childhood cancer sucks. Even so, the walk is relentlessly upbeat. Jacob himself was like this a lot, even when things were hard. So while Disney may be the happiest place on earth to lots of people, I think that for me, the Hope & Heroes Walk easily fits that description.

Jacob is a beautiful name. Jeremy and I had it all picked out years before having children. I'm still very much parenting this child, in my own special way.

You will never be wrong in asking me about Jacob, sharing memories if you knew him and allowing me to bring him into conversation.  Jacob is the opposite of a taboo subject. So go ahead. Say his name. It's okay. Really!