Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On leaving

Pearl of the Sea! Star of the West!
Beautiful Cuba! Your brilliant sky
Is covered by Night's opaque veil,
As my brow is by the pain enveloping it.

I am leaving! The diligent seamen
The sails have raised that soon will tear me
From my native land; and as they unfurl
The winds of the Torrid Zone wait on them.

Farewell, my happy country, beloved Eden!
Where'er the Fates in their fury shall cast me,
Your sweet name shall be like flattery in my ear.

Farewell! ... The swollen sails are rustling,
The anchor is raised ... the ship, convulsed,
Ploughs the waves, flying silently.

—Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda
Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea

I left Cuba exactly 40 years ago today. I can't think of a better way to acknowledge what I owe to my heritage than to quote this brilliant, Cuban-born poet that was so ahead of her times.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Denial just doesn't work

Here we are, embarking on yet another remodeling project that we haven't wanted to tackle, although deep down we knew was inevitable . . .

It began with a little leak in the ceiling around the kitchen eating area, which Lee was convinced was caused by too much water getting splashed by the boys when showering (like they were little kids) . . .

Then last Fall we had an incident with a clogged gutter, and that gave us the opportunity to explain away the leak by telling ourselves that it must have been water seeping into the house from the overflowing gutters. Truthfully, a lot of the damage was indeed caused by the gutters, so we hoped the entire leak issue had been solved.

But the leak came back. Lee eventually opened up the ceiling and came to the sad conclusion that it was coming from the shower area upstairs, but then, still avoiding the "R" word, tried to patch things up with a little cement work and lots of caulk.

And The Leak, which had now permutated into a living, breathing monster, gleefully and malevolently laughed at our pitiful attempts. And still we refused to face the issue head on. Yesterday, Lee decided to take down the sliding glass door on the shower, and replace it with a "real" shower curtain so that David (we can't blame John any more because, inconveniently for this explanation, is away at college) wouldn't splash so much when he showered (yes, he was back to that theory again).

So today, armed with his manly tools, he headed upstairs to take down the door. But after a thorough and dispassionate inspection of the walls, he finally realized that all the walls surrounding the shower were soft, and wet, and beyond patching. The whole thing needed to come down.

It's interesting to observe how the two of us have confronted this issue: Lee kept coming up with explanations that were, in the current slang, really lame. But I acted even worse: I never bought into any of his explanations, not really, but still went along with them because I just didn't want to face the reality of another remodeling project - the decisions, the mess, the many months that the house would be torn up, the money, the short tempers, the mess . . .

Yet, here we are. It's begun with a thorough tear down of the old tile, all the hardware, and the insulation behind it. The tub will come out, too, because, if we are going to do this thing, we may as well do it right. So this afternoon, we went to Home Depot and ordered a whirlpool tub.

And doesn't my husband look cute, even wearing his old, scruffy remodeling clothes?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Harvest Season musings . . .

Rain and cooler weather is expected this weekend. Good weather to catch up on laundry and household chores . . . and maybe start reading the new Dan Brown book . . . And I have three Oprah shows taped on my DVR . . . Do I really care about McKenzie Phillips incestuous relationship with her father? . . . Stop by the cell phone store to add text messaging to our cell phone package . . . More laundry . . . Will Lee tear up the ceiling in the kitchen to fix the leak in the upstairs bathroom? Again? Will he be done by Christmas? . . . Baked chicken for dinner tomorrow . . . should I marinate it tonight? Then there's filing . . . There's always filing . . . But this for sure: I will stop and listen to the rain when it comes and relish the sounds it makes when it hits the skylights . . . I love that sound.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Lady's Handbag Primer

This handkerchief belonged to my mother and it came to me, along with most of her things, when she passed away. And it does remind me of the items that she always carried in her purse, and that, according to her, were essential to a lady:
  • Two handkerchiefs - as an acquaintance described it (rather indelicately, I may add), one for show and one for blow. I imagine this one was for show
  • Rosary beads, and, before 1965 a veil to cover the head before entering church
  • A fan
  • A few coins to tip the attendant in a public restroom, or to make an emergency phone call, or to light a candle in church
  • Lipstick and a powder compact
How times have changed! Even while she was alive she no longer recognized the contents of my purse with its bulging wallet that contained more cash than she had ever carried, and . . . credit cards! No veil, no fan, no powder compact, sometimes a tube of lipstick, sometimes a hankie, along with . . . a pack of Kleenex!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Girl Fun and Family Fun

I hosted a jewelry party this past weekend featuring the work of my friend Julie, who, not only is a talented jewelry designer, but has a wonderful sense of humor. The tag on her work reads IALY Designs (IALY stands for I'll Always Love You - an inside joke from the movie "The Blues Brothers"). My time with Jules is always educational, and so much fun!

Here is some of the work she displayed, which my husband Lee had the presence of mind to photograph before the guests descended and pandemonium ensued.

This one is mine - the earrings, that is, and she is making me a bracelet to match. I can't wait!

This one I lust for, let's see how long I can hold out . . .

And here is the artiste herself!

As if this wasn't enough fun for one day, Lee's brother, Robert, his wife, Barb, and Barb's daughter, Jane with her family came over. We watched the Bears game and ate pizza and minestrone soup. Everyone liked the soup, which was a recipe from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (thank you, Angela!). It was a wonderful day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From “To Autumn”

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
—John Keats
Isn’t this wonderfully evocative? I can picture all this so clearly in my mind! How beautiful and generous is nature!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's fun being a girl! OPI knows . . .

Hmm . . . What color polish do I want today? “You're a Pisa Work?” “Bastille My Heart?” “I'm Not Really a Waitress?”

Nope, I think today is gonna be . . .

“No Spain No Gain!”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The marvels of Photoshop

I promised my friend Miriam I'd do what I could with this picture she had taken with her adored niece, Milene, whose life was sadly cut short by an aneurysm. The picture was faded and had serious water damage. She scanned it and sent it to me via e-mail. Here's the progression of the repair:

The original . . . Much improved, I think, with the help of the "dodge" tool (thank you, John!) although I'll never be completely happy with the color. I also resized it to make it more dramatic . . .

But this is my favorite . . .

I intend to send it to her at Christmas, placed in a 5 x 5 silver frame from Pottery Barn. She has no clue this is coming, I gave her so little hope that something could be done . . . I don't know, it's an awfully long time until Christmas . . .

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It looked much nicer in the store.

I fell in love with these round candles, and allowed myself to do what I very seldom do: I bought them on impulse. Predictably, they don't look as dramatic sitting on my mantle as they did in the store. Of course, I didn't buy the vases or the river rocks in which they were being displayed; I made do with what I had at home. Somehow, they seem a little lost on my mantle.

What the heck! They are candles so they won't be around forever, and once I add other Halloween-y stuff to the mantle next month, it'll jazz up the display.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Orchard Country

Years ago on a dirt road in orchard country,
a farmhouse burned to the cellar-stones.
That night I stood with the other fruit-pickers
watching flames roll and thunder down the walls.

The next day we found near the ruin,
still warm, a tree hung with baked apples. And so,
after a night too close to the fire, a poet,
may hold something delicious in a scorched hand.
—Thomas R. Smith

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I never use the “F” word if I can help it . . .

. . . or the “A” word either. Instead, I call it the “Harvest Season.”

I can deal with the bounty of the yearly harvest and the lovely colors of grapes and corn and butternut squash. And those colors just showed up at my house this weekend. I put away the summer pillows and replaced them with these.

All I need to do now is pour myself a glass of merlot and bring it into the room to echo the rich purple of the one pillow - strictly in the interest of following decorating rules, of course . . . I think I'll go do that now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My grandmother's gifts

My maternal grandmother, Mama Abuela, sent me this hankie from Cuba for my 15th birthday - the all important 15th birthday in a Cuban girl's life. I actually remember seeing this handkerchief in her drawer during one of my visits to her home. The hankie was a small token, but her love was huge.

I've never washed or pressed this handkerchief. If I hold it close to my face, I can still breathe in the faint scents of sandalwood, cedar, and jasmine - the way her armoire always smelled. Those scents transport me back to afternoons spent in her tiny home, telling her all of my travails while she loyally took my side on every issue.
Here she is at my brother Al's First Communion. She hated to have her picture taken and would only pose under duress. Her fingers are intertwined with mine in this photo, and I remember she loved doing that.
Another note on the photo: Al is wearing, along with his "tails," the same cross I wore for my First Communion. And, two years later, I am wearing once again my First Communion dress shortened, modified and accessorized with a pink fabric rose pinned to the waist.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The morning commute

Another wonderful morning facing construction and bumper-to-bumper traffic. I can hardly wait to add snow to this joyful mix! Aren't I the cheerful one today?

On days like this I ask myself: “Self, do you know why you live in Chicago?” And then “Self” replies: “No, but if you hum a few bars . . .”

I hope that if I keep asking the question, at some point the universe will deem fit to provide me with an answer that will resonate.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Somebody being a nobody,
Thinking to look like a somebody,
Said that he thought me a nobody:
Good little somebody-nobody,
Had you not known me a somebody,
Would you have called me a nobody?

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Clever man, Alfred. I love the word play!