Stories from my molehill life.

I went CAMPING!

AGAIN!!:

Top Cat took me camping in Shenandoahlast week . It was the ripest moment of Fall, peak leaf color in Virginia:

 

It was too cold to paint in my journal (45 degrees at night), but I did do a piece of earth-work art (see below):

Now, this was my first time in The Wild so I don’t know if each camp ground offers its own unique style of crazy.

But there’s a reason that I call this piece  “How I Was Minding My Own Business Laying Down Red Fall Leaves WhenThe Old Guy In The Camper Started Telling Me All About His Law Suits Against The Satanic Cults That Are Running This Country”.

And I also got into an argument with another old guy who called me “city people” and then called the cops. Long story. But in the end, I was not charged with anything, but I still did not appreciate the lecture from some big-hatted overgrown boy scout about letting old people in big-ass motor homes (“country people”) run their generators no matter how much it irritates the crap out of me.

But other than that, I loved camping. I loved the way Top Cat knows how to pitch a tent, and chop wood, and cook over a camp fire, and choose exactly the right Bordeaux to go with turkey dogs and baked beans on a full moon-lit October night.

 

I told him that I’d gladly do it again.

But Top Cat isn’t sure that there’s a camp ground in America that is big enough to keep a safe distance between me and my fellow pain in the ass Americans.

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The world-famous author and even more famous recluse, Vivian Swift, boarded the 4:46 to MANHATTAN on October 6, 2010, to attend a WRITERS EVENT. She was wearing real clothes (the kind where you have to hold in your stomach and stand up straight in) and real shoes (you know, with leather soles and a little stack heel) and feeling very spiffy and cultural.

Good thing she had her camera with her — the late afternoon autumnal (see? “Autumnal”: that’s a WRITER’S word) sky was gorgeous, especially considering that it was hovering above QUEENS.

This is Long Island City (above). Long Island City is the new Brooklyn, which once was the new Lower East Side, which used to be the new East Village, which c. 1985 (otherwise known as Vivian Swift’s Hay Day) was ultra-cool.

Vivian Swift misses 1985 every day of her life.

The four-block walk from Penn Station to the WRITERS EVENT took Vivian Swift through the area known as The Garment District in mid-town MANHATTAN.

The Garment District is where wholesalers come to buy garments. Or maybe it’s where wholesalers sell them — Vivian Swift is a little fuzzy on the particulars, never having worked in the Rag Trade. But Vivian Swift would totally wear one of these frocks (see above) if she were ever on American Idol.

Vivian Swift is fascinated by the idea that there are brides out there who might want to dress their flower girls to look like pumpkins.

By the time Vivian Swift got to the WRITERS EVENT and had a glass of wine (thank god) the voices in her head stopped hollering “Everybody come look! Vivian Swift Out of the house and in Manhattan with grown-ups!!” This evening was, after all, NOT ABOUT Vivian Swift.

Ten years ago I came across a display in the 57th Street Borders Books for New Books. I liked the cover, so I bought it: The Forest For the TreesAn Editor’s Advice to Writers. Written by Betsy Lerner, an award-winning insider in the publishing biz as both a writer and a big shot editor, this book gave me my first understanding of how book writing was done, and it gave me the very first inklings of how I might make a place for myself in the book writing world. Betsy explains the business and  art of writing in a way that makes day-to-day, sentence-by-sentence sense. And I thought that if I ever write a book, I want it published by Betsy Lerner.

Seven years later, she accepted me as her client. (That’s the world-famous Betsy, on the left.)

Betsy’s book, The Forest For The Trees, has just been up-dated for the 21st Century and its official pub date was October 6, 2010. The writer’s group She Writes  (www.shewrites.com) hosted the launch at a fund-raiser held in their 37th Street offices. Betsy (on the left) was interviewed about her life and times as a editor/agent/writer (her memoir is Food and Loathing) .

Don’t let the dress fool you: Betsy is all Doc Martens Dead Head. 20 minutes in, she let rip with the first “asshole” reference and I knew we were in for a free and frank exchange of ideas.

 

If you want to learn about yourself as a writer, and you want to learn about how to take your place in the writing world, get this book.

You’re welcome.

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This is a photo of my first gray hair, taken in 1990. (It’s in my bangs, front and center.)  I was 34. I was untroubled by a gray hair. I actually thought it was kind of neat.

This is a photo of me in 2005 with the late, great, Winston . My gray roots are just starting to peep out of the hair dye that I decided to stop using. Yes, I am 49 years old. Notice how Winston totally rocks the gray fur. I hoped that I would look half as awesome in my true color!

This (below) is a photo taken of me in my backyard earlier this month, with Lickety, one of my feral cats. He showed up in the backyard in the Summer of 2008 and as you can see, he is completely fierce and wild. Savage. Like a miniature tiger. We are all very afraid of him and his ferociousness.

I took a look at this photo and I got a mild case of Capgras syndrome. That’s what happens when people become convinced that someone close to them has been replaced with an identical-looking imposter. I saw a Vivian-looking person in the photo but what was with all that gray hair?

I’m not vain, really I’m not. But this is why my Author Photos are all in black and white.

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It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for us to all wonder, where did August go?

How did Summer go so fast?

Why can’t there be just a little more time?

I’m never ready to say good-bye.

I want things to stay the same, everyday, without complications or challenges or thickening plots.  I want to go back to those happier times before Twitter, e-books, sexting, and Sarah Palin. And as long as I’m at it, I’d like to stay 26 and I want my old cat Winston back.

Sigh.

Coming up is the last weekend of my favorite month of the year. Top Cat and I are going to the shore of the Long Island Sound tomorrow with a picnic dinner and a bottle of champagne and we’re going to watch the sun set and toast our good luck that we’ve made it this far, to Old Fartism, where we complain about everything that’s new, “improved”, loud, or anything that the kids like these days.

And that’s how we’ll say good-bye August.

Can’t wait to see you again next year.

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This is the morning light on a dewy a spider web in my front yard.

August: I wish we could borrow a few days from July, a few from September, and make August 40 days long. That would give me 40 of the best early mornings of the year.

Every morning, for 40 days, I’d wake  up before sunrise, and lie in bed listening to the birds try to out-sing the cicadas (a warning that the coming day will be hot, very very hot).

I’d remember to do that quantum-field morning meditation where I create my day by telling myself that I’m going to live today in peace, productivity, and perseverance.

Then I’d get out of bed, put on a  Summer dress, step into my sneakers, go downstairs and put the tea kettle on the stove. then I’d feed the cats, while the water  boils.

I’d put a drop of vanilla extract into my tea, with a big dollop of honey, and I’d head out doors to breathe the freshest air of the day . I’d  watch the sun rise, lighting up a flower bed here and there, illuminating the woods behind my house. I’d  put off thinking about my To Do List until all the night shadows still hanging around the corners of the yard had vanishished into thin air.

Your Comments last week were fantastic! Thank you for so many great tea names! All of them sound exactly like the kind of tea I would be glad to take with me in a Go Cup on every August morning.

I love the suggestion of having a Four Season choice of tea — after all, does anyone in her right mind drink a big duskyLapsang Suchong in the Summer? A dainty little Earl Grey in February?

So many good tea ideas to consider! Thank you so much for giving me so much to ponder (I need a cup of tea).

P. S. And yes, Barbara, I did sew that embroidered picture of me and my cats: the original is hanging in my downstairs powder room:

You know, in Winter, this powder room gets the most beautiful afternoon light. A flood of sunshine comes in through the window just out of view (to the side of the sink) like it’s the portal to some kind Bathroom Henge. And, as I live in a drafty, 100-year old house, this specially solar-powered powder room becomes the most snug room in the house around 3 o’clock every Winter afternoon. There are times when I’ve sat in here, with my afternoon cup of tea and a good book, soaking up some rare sun beams on a cold Winter day.

Good thing I haven’t asked you to come up with names for Drinking in the Downstairs Bathroom Tea. I’d hate to think what you’d come up with.

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There’s a corner of our backyard that I don’t let Top Cat mow. Now that’s it’s the middle of July the growth is crazy — shoulder-high in places. I call this wildness  “The Meadow”.

Today I want to talk about The Meadow, and its bumper crop:

Can you see them? All three of them?

These cute furries are  what I call our Cash Crop.

Because I am an idiot. And I think this kind of cuteness in our own backyard makes us millionaires.

You know what else makes me feel rich?

1. When Kennedy airport (15 miles to the South of us) re-routes its flights (we never know why) the planes’ approach is right over our little village. We can sit in the backyard and read the tail fins on all the aircraft: Air France. El Al. JAL. That South American airline that LOVES the color teal. TEAL! Air Suisse! Fed Ex!

Each plane is a topic of association and I sit there and marvel that they can get those tin buckets to FLY.  Who needs expensive drugs when you have this for free?

2. On the first Tuesday of every month the Locust Valley bagpipe drill team practices at the Presbyterian church in the village. You can just walk in and take a seat in the pews and listen to the most amazing Scottish music for free. In fact, those guys (and ladies) are so happy to have visitors that they will make you feel like they are playing this all for you.  And then you catch sight  of the skinny Indian teenager who plays his heart out on those bagpipes you give in to the feeling that the human race is full of some of the most wondrous creatures on earth.

3. My local public library has two yards of P. G. Wodehouse books on its shelves. They’ve been there forever… that means that most of those books are vintage, with the original dust covers. For instance, today I got a 1958 edition of Cocktail Time, and a 1971 edition of Jeeves & The Tie That Binds — the one with the author photo of P. G. touching his toes at age 80).

A good public library is like having a rich uncle who gives you free rein in his great collection of books.

4. American birds.  It’s a fact that there are very few blue birds in the world and, in fact, there are none in Ye Olde World. We in the New World are lucky to have the bluest, smartest, spiffiest blue bird in the world: the Blue Jay.

Every time I see them (every day) I feel exorbitantly wealthy that I am able to feast my eyes on these astoundingly beautiful, entertaining, and jazzy smart-ass birds.

5. My husband (the Top Cat) prepares to tackle the down and dirtiness of Home Repair in a wealthy way: he scrounges through all his power tools and his jars of bits of hardware, he hoists his tool belt and his vast stock pile of hand tools ,and drags together all the machinery and leather accessories and snazzy metal accoutrements of his trade.

Then he goes into the kitchen and pours himself a glass of red wine. Then off he goes, to do manly things, wielding in one hand a lethal apparatus of modern technology that can drill/sand/saw through steel/concrete/slate;   and in the other hand is alcohol.

This makes me feel rich because Top Cat’s life insurance policy covers Death By Stupid Stuff That Happens With Power Tools and I’m the only beneficiary!

So, what’s making you feel rich today?

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Last week these two baby raccoons waddled into my backyard. This is how they walk, haunch to haunch, like they were tied up for a three legged race. They aren’t fast, baby raccoons — here they are staggering towards  the bowl of cat food that I was able to punt before them.

And here they are, a little while later, eating some canned cat food off a tea cup saucer. They might not look it in this photo, but these guys were SMALL, like the size of kittens. And noisy: they clicked, and coo’ed, cackled and chirped the whole time they were stuffing their mouths full of Friskies. And they are very messy.  Look:

This is them, two days later, when I shoved another little plate of food at them. Yes, that’s Sparky (the more golden-colored one) going in feet-first. That’s Jeff (the smaller, more fiesty one) trying to get in the scrum on the right. What a mess they make. They are PIGS.

they’ve been gone now, for a week, but Yeah, I’m GLAD that I haven’t seen them in a week. Right! Who needs this kind of slop in the yard? Huh? No sir, not me. Good riddance.

But, maybe, if you’re hungry, or lonely, or scared, will you come back, baby raccoons? Please?

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I’m still a new-comer to Long Island, having lived here for only five and a half years now. And for three of those years, I was in my room writing a book about living some place else (the book was, of course, When Wanderers Cease to Roam). So really, I’ve only lived here for about three years.

So one day I was driving home from a thrift shop and I spied this shop (above).

It’s a bakery outlet.

Let me repeat that: it’s a Bakery Outlet.

Well, this I had to see.  So I veered off the road and pulled into this shabby parking  lot, and entered a linoleum-floored heaven.

Entenmann’s is a local commercial bakery that supplies boxed cakes and cookies to grocery stores and delis in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Maybe elsewhere for all I know: all I know is that they”ve been baking their stuff here on Long Island for about 100 years.

And this is their outlet, where you can get bakery seconds for less than half price. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Jeeze…What kind of skeeve would eat second-rate bakery goods?”

The answer is: Moi. Just so you know, this is what a bakery second looks like:

Maybe you can’t see why this box of delicious Super Cinnamons didn’t pass quality control, so here’s a second look:

See how the blobs of sickeningly sweet icing didn’t get plopped on exactly in the center of these buns? That’s what makes this box of $5.99 Super Cinnamons sell for $2.00 at the bakery outlet.

So forget all the stereotypes about Long Island. This place is awesome!

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Don’t Cry For Me  Por Favor-hor: These are my working conditions. (Sob.) I have to paint around big fat furry kitty butts.

But I digress. The thing I wanted to discuss today was something that nobody ever told me about getting older. Which is, the older you get, the more things make you cry. What is up with that?

I think I went through the first 20 years of adulthood (age 19 to 39) without crying more than three times. TOTAL. (Because of cats: the older I get, the more it sucks that we have to outlive our pet kitties. If we are lucky.)

But then I turned 40, and little things started to make me cry. TV COMMERCIALS started to make me cry. And now, I’m lucky if I can make it through a week without puddling up.

I did a talk on Tuesday night (it went well — whew) and I had to drop part of it because I didn’t think I could do it without crying: I have a thing about hugging trees. I love to hug trees. And there’s a special tree here on Long Island that is extremely worthy of hugging, a hundred-year old American Elm tree (you know how 100 million elm trees died in the 1950s due to Dutch Elm disease? Well, there’s one elm tree here on Long Island that has so far escaped the disease and it’s the first elm tree that I  have ever hugged and lo, there is nothing like putting your arms around a lone elm tree…). Yes, I talked about the elm tree on Long Island, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about THIS elm tree http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/01/08/us/AP-US-The-Old-Man-and-the-Tree.html 

because it was only going to make me cry.

And then my friend Melinda sent me a YouTube video that made me cry and it ISN’T EVEN ABOUT CATS:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds8ryWd5aFw

The other wierd thing about getting older is that I laugh more: I’ve been watching TV sitcoms for…what? 40 years? 50 years? (Ouch.) And I have NEVER laughed out loud while watching them, even when Barney Fife was being his most braggadocious, or when My Favorite Martian got himself in a right pickle, or when Davy Jones got the punch line to any one of the Monkees’ jokes.

Except now. Now I can’t get through an episode of Community (NBC, Thursday nights at 8) , or The Big Bang Theory (CBS, Monday nights at 9:30) , or Flight of the Conchords (HBO Whenever) without laughing. OUTLOUD.

Am I getting stupid?

Or am I just getting old? Old enough to realize, in a way that I never could when I was young, that happiness is so very accidental, so much a happenstance of chance and fleeting moments and hard work, that I can only cry (or laugh) at the bravery of those who  make joy out of this sad and angry and doomed old world? (Bad news this week from Haiti, from the Massachusettes special election, from the Supreme Court ruling about corporate funding for elections: I just want to cry.) Those people who dance in their winter coats, who love a tree for 50 years, who hit those high notes, who make us laugh — I think they are more death-defying than prayer or “art” or stone monuments. I think they are love, and kindness — and that gets me.

Oh jeeze. Am I getting nice in my old age?     That’s sooo not like me.

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January dawn light, through frost-covered windows, shines onto my bedroom curtains,

and makes me remember this light on a dusky winter walk a few days before, in upstate New York:

When the sun unexpectedly shone for a bright moment on a snowy day in upstate New York, I ran to this window:

 

That same sun beam was lighting up this corner of the library.  (What do you read on a day like this? That bookcase contains nothing but murder mysteries — I recommend something English, written before 1950.)

Back to that icy sparkling window: in the upper left hand corner is a peek at the backyard:

 

This is what the backyard looks like:

In the front yard, there is a gazebo where you can sit and look at loons and beavers on the pond.

And when it snows the very next day, this is what the snow around the gazebo looks like at night:

 

 

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