Twistin’ Straw

January 12, 2009 § 1 Comment

Of all the Little House books, I’d have to say that The Long Winter is one of my favorites.  It tells the tale of the Ingalls women struggling to make it through a brutal Minnesota winter while Pa is away, getting “the Barrel” from “the city”.  I’m doing all of this from memory, so if my details are sketchy, try to deal with it in an adult manner.  Although it deals with dire conditions of starvation, frostbite and deadly prairie blizzards, it also touches on my favorite subject of shelter, nest and home.  The family is all cooped up inside with NO DIRECTV, no high calorie snacks and no Diet Coke.  As their supplies grow thin, they must take to twisting straw into tight little logs to burn in th wood stove.  All day, all night, one of the girls is always sitting near the hearth, twisting straw.  I was flat out enthralled by this for some reason.  I guess it was mostly by their ability to make do with what they had without whining or pouting or screaming “OMG I’M GOING TO DIE IF I DON’T GET A DECENT PIECE OF BEEF UP IN HERE.”

The point is, Chicago is under a blizzard warning, and while I am fairly terrified of rain storms and tornados, snow storms are when I shine.  For some reason, snow storms bring out my nestiness, my love of ‘living small’, of ‘stocking up’ and ‘hunkering down’.  I went grocery shopping yesterday and made a big roast dinner so we could have left over mashed potatoes and gravy and roasted chicken and stuffing and all that jazz.  But most of all, I went shopping yesterday because I liked the idea of “getting supplies”. I like to pretend that I’m not going to have to get up and leave the house and go to work even if there is a blizzard and that some dream world thing will happen where I get a phone call,

“It’s not a fit day out for man nor beast, stay home Ms. McCartney, stay home and build a fort with your daughter and sew and make cocoa and a warm dinner in a heavy pot.  Don’t come in to the office whatever you do!  Make sure that you’re in front of the window when the sun goes down and the snowy sky turns pink orange with the craggy fingers of trees breaking through it like lightning.  Play a game involving dice!  Snuggle under a blanket!  Take a nap.  And gosh oh golly, you’d better hope the power doesn’t go out, forcing you to use candles all day.”

As the winter started for us, way back in November with a wicked snow, I opined that no one has cozy shelter hunkerdown days anymore.  It’s this damn technology that allows us to blog, that brings movies to our mailbox within a day of asking for them, that shows marathons of Top Chef on Bravo.  When we get snowed in, or rained in or Lazed in, we all separate.  Someone gets the laptop to futz around chat rooms or poker games or keeping up with sporting events, someone watches a t.v. in one room, someone watches t.v. in another, children play with games that talk back to them, that teach them how to read with a robotic voice.  Food is zapped in the microwave, people work from home by ‘dialing in’.  Offices demand to have your cell number, your home number.  There is no escape from the modern world. 

In the midst of my gnashing of teeth for days gone by, I then stumbled into the wormhole of Turkey Feathers and her ‘snowed in day’ where she did everything I dreamed of, right down to the crock pot and the board game.  Well, um, fine, surely she’s an oddity.  Oh no, then Soulemama stabbed me in the heart with her wish for a wintry, cozy weekend. And I sadly realized that people are indeed out there, living the life I have imagined.  It is easy to achieve.  I strongly suspect these families are not settling in with their t.v. trays to catch the Family Guy mini marathon on TBS every Tuesday.  It’s just that simple.  If I want to live small, if i want to feather my nest with handmade quilts and paintings and fill my shelves with scrapbooks and picture frames, I’ve got to unplug.

It won’t be easy.  I am in love with t.v. as if it were my lifeblood.  I love good t.v., I love bad t.v.  I love ‘smart’ t.v., I love the dumbest, dumbed down brainlessest t.v. there is.  I will never be able to shut off completely…but this winter, this 2009 I’m going to try and be cozy to build the home I’ve imagined, to write, to sew, to paint, to sculpt, to read, to snuggle, to twist the proverbial straw.

Who’s with me?


Autumn Renewal

September 9, 2008 § 4 Comments

Trick or Treat Bag Smell is unique and complex.  Like a cheap, pinkish wine, it swirls together the rich scents of chocolate, rock-hard, starch dusted bubblegum, vanilla and artificial fruit.  Had I the means or the gumption to do so, I’d attempt a tween focused eau du parfum reminiscent of this fragrance which I’ve found impossible to duplicate.

Until this week.

Our office has a candy drawer, replenished every Monday with fun sized candy bars, gum, mints, fruit chews and smarties.  Smarties, I’ve decided, are the key.  I opened it on Tuesday, having received word from my mole on the first floor that the mini Twix were disappearing at an unprecedented pace.  Indeed I got the last one, but not before drinking in that sweet smelling wormhole to Autumns past.

To me, Autumn is truly the season of renewal.  Conversely, Spring is the season of mud and water damage.  It is Autumn that offers children around the world* a chance to make a grand and dramatic change on their first day of school.  In Autumn the notebooks are clean, bright white, college ruled and perhaps organized by color with a doodle free, color coordinated folder (green=science, yellow=math, red=history, blue=english).  In Autumn you can try out for the team again, and fail because your knee popped RIGHT OUT OF THE SOCKET during the first round of the Bump,Set,Spike drill.  In Autumn you can return to school after a BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER.  BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER GUYS!  BIG.  SUMMER.  MAKEOVER.

Beginning in seventh grade and continuing pretty much to this day, I’ve dreamed hard and planned long to have a successful BIG SUMMER MAKEOVER.  

We tried it once, my mom and I.  Let me take you back to the summer of ’85.  I had recently convinced my opthamologist to prescribe contact lenses since I was planning on becoming a movie star after reaching as far as the call backs for the Nazareth College Youth Theatre program.  Having gotten rid of my clear acrylic glasses, I decided it was time I started selecting my own school clothes.  After all, I was almost 13, and my JC Penney corduroy blazers and plaid ascots weren’t going to fly in eighth grade.  My mother (probably desperate to lose the Mom of Penfield’s Biggest Nerd title) allowed for a short haircut with a tight perm, and on the first day of school, I took a deep breath and stepped into black stirrup pants with white Keds and a fashionably oversized sweatshirt with multicolored neon shapes all over it.  In the blink of an eye, the truth was out.  I was one trendy son of a bitch.

The problem was that my hair was still the color of a cardboard box.  The Keds gave me a wicked case of Lichen Planus, I still had a voice that sounded like someone had kicked my adenoids into submission, I still had braces and I still weighed 103 when Kristen and Lauren weighed 90, a fact I’ll remember on my deathbed, because the gym teacher yelled the statistics across the gym to the woman recording them five hundred yards away.  I was still outside of the inner circle, being artsy instead of athletic.  I made poor choices that kept me out…like instead of making the cool tote bag out of canvas in sewing class, I decided to make a giant denim ski bag eight feet long.  Instead of sculpting a kitty or a tree in art class, I made a giant molar.  Don’t mistake this innovation for talent.  I wasn’t even artsy enough to be allowed into the tight knit OUTER circle of ‘creative individuals’.  I was a weird little slice of the population where all the venn diagram circles meet…just floating on the edges of everybody.  And still, and this cuts to the quick, even with contacts and short hair cut, Jim Bacon never spoke to me.


So now i used Fall as a springboard for other makeovers (although shopping for new clothes and getting a fresh haircut is best done in September).  Much to everyone’s joy, Autumn is when I like to clean my house.  I get rid of the dust, throw out the clutter.  In Fall I refeather the nest, making everything cushier, softer, I light the house with candles, I use potpourri, I buy new linens in creamy colors.  I try again to become organized in Autumn, just like back in school.  Whether it’s a fresh commitment to coupon clipping, planning a day to make casseroles and freeze them just like Family Circle says I should, or filling in letters A-F in a brand new address book, I continually live up to my mantra from Bart Simpson:

I can’t promise I’ll try.  But I’ll try to try.

Most of all, I get the itch to entertain in the Fall.  That could be because it’s my ‘birthday season’, or because growing up my family always held a Harvest Festival, inviting the whole family to a day long celebration of…well, being a family.  It could be because I love gathering up folks for a hayride, or to pick out a pumpkin or because I love trick or treating. But I also love Thanksgiving.  

Back before everyone we knew was married and having kids, we were just a small tribe of new actors in the city, working retail, unable to leave for the holidays.  Brian and I were the ‘old married couple’ with nice dishes and a grown up apartment, and we decided to host “Homeless Thanksgiving”, for people who weren’t going to have a cozy day of football and cranberries and turkey and naps.  I made everything from scratch, right down to the pea salad, a tradition from Grandmas house.  No one had to dress up, and after dinner I told everyone to feel free to stay as long as they liked, providing floor space and pillows for the luscious full belly snoozes that take over around four o’clock.  I secretly hoped for overnight guests so I could really feel like a content and fattened mother hen.  We only hosted two or three Thanksgivings as people began to have families of their own, to find more ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving celebrations, and I went back to the supporting cast, bring pies and baked onions to my aunt’s house.  

It was getting that feeling that was my true big makeover.  I discovered who I was, what I was meant to be.  I found my calling, even though it’s not profitable or innovative or even terribly surprising.  The truth is, I want to bring people in from the cold and make them warm.  I want to be the person who notices you when no one else will.  Perhaps it’s because I have that ability now, to BE the inner circle that others seek, to open my doors to the people who are lonely, sad, confused.  I’ve been on both sides of awkward loneliness, and Lord knows I want to alleviate it.  Let me blunt – I want to give you homemade Chex Mix.  And everyone knows that it tastes best in the Fall.


*no research whatsoever was done in the writing of this entry

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