Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Porcherator

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Four days ago, my refrigerator broke. Fortunately, it’s the middle of a very cold winter, so I was able to store my perishable food on the porch.

On the first couple of days, there was plenty of ice in the freezer so I was able to use it as a cooler, having moved the frozen items outside. But then, since the unit was completely dead and the ice gradually melted, I eventually had to bag everything else up tightly (protection from critters) and place it outside the front door.

I live on a quiet block in a pretty good neighborhood, so I wasn’t concerned about someone climbing the stairs to my illuminated second story porch to rummage through the shopping bags sitting under my mailbox. Although it was a bit of an inconvenience to have to unlock and open my front door and the storm door every time I was ready to fix a meal or a snack, at least I didn’t have to throw away all my food.

I confess, it took me about a day or so to figure out that I had this great outdoor cooling unit at my disposal. Duh on me. But once I figured it out, it was kind of like indoor camping, without the bugs, or the blackout.

One thing that was a real pain in the ass – I have this front door that leaks air really badly at the bottom. Rather than permanently fix it, I just use a rolled up towel to cover up the gap and stop the breeze from blowing in. I lost track of how many times I had to move and then replace that damn towel over the weekend. Must. Fix. Front. Door. OK, it’s on the list.

porcherator pic 2

Do you know, there are ways to eat that are so simple, that you could get by on about one quarter of the amount of food you might think you need to have in your refrigerator at any given time. For five days, we’ve dined on various combinations of the following staple items: eggs, milk, plain yogurt, butter, cheddar cheese, bread, corn tortillas, pickles, strawberry preserves, avocado, chicken soup (OK, I went out and bought all the ingredients to make that, because my son has also been home sick with a cold this entire time), pan fried fish (OK, I had cooked up an entire batch of dover sole I bought on sale at Whole Foods the night before the refrigerator died. Both the soup and the fish made great, easy to store leftovers that we’ve dipped into over the course of several days), frozen strawberries, peaches and mangoes (slowly defrosting, used in smoothies), kale, mint, celery (all three of which also went into the smoothies), frozen tamales, frozen peas, bananas, and one nutrition bar I ate by myself after my son fell asleep one night. Beverages have consisted of water and various varieties of tea.

What’s my point? Well first of all, things are not as complicated as we think. I know I could do with a lot simpler shopping list, cook meals that last for several days, and not feel like I have to snack endlessly. I could eat healthier and not spend as much money.

Secondly, I am very lucky. So our refrigerator broke. So what. Yes, we were lucky in that I had a service contract. What a good investment that turned out to be. Although we did have to wait for four days to get on the service schedule, since it happened just before the weekend, we were able to make do, and it was only temporary. Also, it wasn’t like we also lost heat, electricity or water, as can happen in large scale disasters. This minor inconvenience reminded me that people can and do survive interruptions to the flow of their daily existence much worse than this. And today, my favorite GE repairman showed up to replace the faulty circuit board that was the cause of the problem.

Having my son home sick this entire time (fortunately, though he feels pretty miserable, it’s only a bad cough and a cold) reminded me of how it was when my husband and I used to cope with his periodic sickle cell crises. That kind of major medical situation would stop the flow of our lives completely. Everything optional got put on hold, and all of the essential activities, such as working at my day job, took on a kind of vibrating intensity colored by the underlying urgency of his condition.

Without the red alert status of a life threatening disease flare-up, what’s left is reminiscent of those times I got to stay home from school as a kid, sick enough to enjoy my mom’s nurturing care, but not too sick to prevent me from enjoying hours of reading a good book, or watching cartoons or other silly shows on TV. Of course, that kind of liminal time-out-of-time is not fully mine to enjoy now. I still have work to do – assignments to complete, deadlines to meet. But in between, I can watch my son, wearing his pajamas all day, lolling from one activity to the next, most fairly mindless, just trying to pass the time while his body fights the germs that take their time doing their dirty work inside their body, just waiting for them to clear out.

I give him as much water and soup and herbal tea as he can stand. I help him blow his nose over and over again, rubbing soothing vitamin E oil onto the irritated, reddened skin above his lips. We spend more than the usual amount of time cuddling together reading Harry Potter, and yes, I’ve seen a few too many mindless Disney Channel pre-teen situation comedies.

I’m sure I will be climbing the walls shortly. Another day of this is about all I can stand. Plus, I have appointments coming up later this week outside the house that I can’t cancel, so I’ll have to start coming up with alternate childcare plans. And my son has some big overdue homework assignments that I will have to help him complete, despite how crappy he feels. Oh yes, I can feel my patience and calm evaporating. I can hardly finish one article on my to-do list. I wish I could just let him play and loll and leave my own work behind and just watch hours and hours of TV with him on the couch, eating soup and drinking smoothies…

But in the meantime, the bags of food are off the porch just in time for today’s icy rains and tomorrow’s forecasted warmer temperatures, there’s still a half a pot of chicken soup waiting for us in the refrigerator, I think I have some stuff to make pasta and homemade marinara sauce, and tomorrow we should be getting the next Harry Potter movie in the mail courtesy of Netflix.

Really, life is good…

It’s a New Day

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Well, I couldn’t muster a year end Top 10 list, and honestly, New Year’s Eve has always made me a just a little uneasy – so much performance pressure to have a good time. I can’t really blow my mind with happiness on cue. I mean I am pretty upbeat, but when it starts to feel forced, I just want to slap kittens.

I think I’ve found the key to New Year’s Eve happiness. Church. I’m serious. But not just any church. For the second year in a row, I’ve attended New Year’s Eve Watch Night service at Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem. From the exuberant gospel choir to the pastor’s fiery sermon to the commemorative countdown to freedom just before midnight (the Emancipation Proclamation came down 150 years ago, on January 1st, 1863), I felt awash in the glow of faith and optimism in the face of struggle. That kind of spirit speaks to me across all lines.

Of course, after church, there’s a house party, complete with food, friends and my new favorite, coquito – Puerto Rican coconut eggnog with a kick. I was not the designated driver this year, so I felt completely free to get buzzed on my little half a glass.

Heading back into the work week today and jump starting the new year with good intentions, I do have a few thoughts I want to share, in no particular order.

Boundaries. I’ve thought a lot about these suckers over the years. Now that I’m a parent, I understand more than ever the need to impose them on a child. My son, now 9 and a half, has fully embodied his assigned task of pushing said boundaries at every juncture. I realize it’s his job right now. Just as it’s my job to impose as strict a set of standards and practices as I can muster.

Boundaries. I was deprived of them at an early age by a mom who did not know any better. Little did she realize the kind of work she was setting me up for later in life. She enjoyed the comfort and reassurance of having a precocious little friend, and I developed an outsized sense of my own capabilities and responsibilities. It was a curse and a blessing, I suppose. I’m sure I’m also unwittingly giving my son a ton of mixed messages, but I’m really conscious of the process here. Even though I applaud his rebellious super confidence, I know it’s my job to show him the rules before he can grow up to break them in his own way.

These are lessons learned from training in music and theater and writing. It really helps to learn music theory basics – time and key signatures, scales, arpeggios and intervals of all kind, before you jump off into the land of improvisation. It’s good to know all about Aristotelian dramatic structure before you tear down the 4th wall and deconstruct narrative. Understanding the fundamentals of storytelling allows me to play with expectations yet still deliver good drama or suspense in my writing.

I am all about breaking down walls and operating in hybrid territory. I resist categorization of most kinds in my life and my work, and as a human being. Sure, I’m a woman, I was born and raised Jewish, in Long Island. But it was at a time when family structures and notions of personal and cultural identity were breaking down all around me. Now I’m a widow and a mother in an age when family units are being further redefined in countless ways. I pick and choose my elements of worship and belief from multiple spiritual traditions, and I define my politics, like my sexuality, on the relationships I cherish most, and the priorities I see before me.

Nobody puts Baby in a box.

I see a new year full of redefinition on the work and creative front, as well. More now than ever, I’m living my life as an entrepreneur and a freelance writer. Some of my projects take up more of my time than others, and my focus shifts with the priorities of any given moment. Imposing structure into such a free form lifestyle is my latest challenge. How does one create a routine that’s based on an internal to-do list, instead of orders from a boss? Many of you are familiar with this challenge already. Many more of you may confront it, as our economic system continues to evolve at a heady pace.

Do I sound optimistic? I am! Even as I’m preparing for some major and potentially frightening changes in all aspects of my life. I maintain that the calamities and sorrows of my past have armed me with more than enough resilience and perspective to manage whatever is preparing to come my way. And if not, I’m prepared to bluff my way through…

Can you feel the buzz? It’s a new year, a new time, a new day… can you feel it??

The STREB dancers in action, 12/22/12

The STREB dancers, jumping off into action, 12/22/12