First, can I just say how much I love blogs? I learn so much and feel as though I travel to beautiful faraway places each time I check in with my favorite bloggers.
Saw the above image on A Cup of Jo, which is one glorious wee corner of the web. The image is originally from a blog called Sweet Paul. Apparently Paul is chasing the sweet things in life. Wise man, that Paul. Original post is here. Another gem from sweet ol' Paul and reposted by Cup of Jo is this clever idea.
I'm currently making a list of wonderful things to see and do in LA for my friend K. She visits next week, and I'm very excited. I'll share that list with ya soon. LA can be confusing and spread out and overwhelming, but it really is a lovely place to explore.
Heard it has been raining like mad back in L.A. Here in South Carolina, the skies are clear, and the air is cold. I've taken to wearing a big puffy coat from L.L. Bean with a faux fur collar around the hood. Anna Wintour would surely approve of the faux fur. For those who have never experienced L.A. in the rain, you've missed an interesting thing. People are on edge. Not the razor edge you find with the Santa Ana Winds, but a eery when-is-the-other-show-gonna drop edge. Or a this-is-cool-for-an-hour-now-when's-it-gonna-stop edge. For the few of us who absolutely love the stuff, rain is a welcome change from the sameness that is the climate of L.A. We don't have seasons, we don't have weather. We have climate. Dear Angelenos: it will pass soon. Promise. 'Til then, take this opportunity to curl up with a good book, slow down and maybe enjoy a warm coffee beverage from Coffee Bean/Starbucks and be joyful you aren't suffering thru chattering teeth and snow. See, there's a rainbow at the end of all this rain after all--you aren't in North Dakota.
Tomorrow I'm off to North Carolina to visit a dear friend from college and her brand new baby girl, Stella. Then I'll head to my grandmother's house. There's bound to be a river to pass over and woods to go thru.
Photo taken somewhere in the stretch of sea between Italy and Greece on a very windy day just before a terrible storm. A storm with apocalyptic rain, waves and wind. I was younger then and sulking about something. Probably about having my picture taken.
I found myself talking about The Satorialist several times over the past weekend. At one point, I commented on how alike the patrons of Intelligentsia in Venice and the people of The Satorialist, frozen forever on street corners, were. A quick scroll through the blog offers a glance at so many fascinating stories--snapshots of people taking risks, people making statements, people blissfully unaware.
The above picture has become a favorite, an image I share with just about anyone who comes by my desk for a chat. I adore that wee boy's half smile, the way he tugs at his shorts, the pom poms on his socks. He reminds me so much of all that I love about Madrid: the classic architecture, the vibrant personality of the city, and the constant juxtaposition of history and present-day.
Wow. This picture pretty much sums up the substance of my dreams: stories. And I'm not just talking about the dreams you enjoy while sleeping. I daydream about characters I've met in novels, writing my own stories, and piecing together the stories of everyone around me.
Want to make sure all the credit due is given for this photo. I found it on Style Me Pretty, a wonderful blog that centers on weddings and happens to be a great source of inspiration for design. The photo was taken by the talented people at Mango Studios in conjunction with the clever people at One Fine Day.
I've been working like a mad woman on a story for my grad school applications. I should get a medal for getting this far, but I'll settle for a fancy pumpkin coffee drink at Starbucks.
Here's a small blurb from the story (it's called What Might Have Been Lost):
My brother’s confession is terrifying, like being blinded by sunlight after living in the darkness of a cave for weeks and weeks. My mind struggles to make sense of this new bleached-out landscape, to decipher where the hem of the sky meets the ground, to distinguish angels from chimeras. My brother’s life was not full of affliction, as I had imagined. Instead it was saturated with remorse and the constant hum of longing. It occurs to me that I have wasted time on my hands, the result of building houses from ash. But thoughts like these are weak aftershocks today, flashing and then fading to black before their strength can be registered.
“What do we do now?” I ask. David has his arms by his side with his palms open to me. He looks like he is preparing to receive a heavy load.
“I’m not really sure. Javier certainly won’t be conceding the election, and I doubt he will condone any sort of public ransom payment. I suppose he could be persuaded to a quiet payment if the funds weren’t associated with him, but I think it might be best to exclude him from the equation all together. What are you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I can’t pay what they want, that’s for certain. And I don’t have any allies here outside of our family. I could maybe contact the American embassy, but what can they do? They would end up working with The Lieutenant and his staff. I don’t know if I can just cut Javier out. It seems like he is who these people are really going after anyway.”
“There might be one option,” my brother says, sinking back into the couch. He is silent for a while, staring at his hands, before he continues speaking. “Ursula and I both have extensive insurance policies, which provide access to a professional negotiator in situations like this. I don’t know what can be done, but I know that negotiations have worked in the past.”
“What would that mean for Sophie?” The question comes out so softly, I’m not sure David heard me.
“Well, it would be tricky. We would have to stipulate that both Ursula and Sophie are returned alive for the ransom.”
In response to this kindness my eyes sting, and my chest shakes. I cover my face with my hands and cry. I cry for the 7-year old boy who was pushed off a bridge by his brother. I cry for the lonely 18-year kid old who left home and never looked back. I cry for the adult who is consumed with the fear of losing his wife, his identity, and his purpose forever. I cry for hope I never knew existed. David comes to the window and embraces me.
My most favorite painting. It lives at The Getty Museum here in LA, lucky for me.
This is the view from a friend's home in the Pacific Palisades. AH-MAZING way to start the day.
I aged one year last month, and my friend Meghan was incredibly thoughtful and celebrated with me by making a delish dinner and a homemade cake. The bottle of wine was a purchase I made last year at a wine tasting room in Los Olivos, CA, which you can read about here.
A nice motto for life. Even better for the workplace.
I'm watching a friend's cat. His name is Wally, and he likes to garden.
Yeah so this working out thing ain't so fun sometimes. And while it may not be fun, working out can sometimes be funny. Disagree? Allow me to tell you a little tale that involves myself (well, duh), Allison, and Chelsea. Allison and Chelsea work in my office. Allison was a professional personal trainer just a few months ago. Chelsea has youth on her side in a big way.
The setting: The Stairs In Santa Monica. As in, that's what people call them 'round these parts. (and also on the Travel Channel whenever some chirpy travel host comes to L.A. to film a segment on "Top Ten Places to See in L.A.!")
The time: Workout Wednesday. As in, that's what Allison and I call the one day of the week when we get together to workout. (usually this entails Allison exercising some mad athletic skill while I exercise my right to walk like a grandma at the mall.)
So we arrive at The Stairs In Santa Monica around 6:30--in the evening. I haven't completely lost my mind to go and climb these stairs in the morning. Here's an image, so you can visualize what I am referring to when I say The Stairs In Santa Monica Yeah, so see how there are mountains? And a valley? Well, The Stairs In Santa Monica literally scale the side of a cliff. There are actually two sets of stairs--a wooden set of stairs and a concrete set of stairs. The wooden set of stairs has 189 steps (of torture). The concrete set of stairs probably have the same amount of steps with an added bonus, the concrete steps are steeper.
Most people climb the stairs a couple of times and then hang around at the top of the stairs, posing as though they are being photographed for the cover of Shape Magazine. It's actually quite ridiculous and pretentious. People do push-ups on the sidewalk. Trainers say things like, "Oh the shaking in your legs is good. If you feel like you're going to pass out, just sit in the grass and drink some water." Girls do yoga...in the grassy median...in the middle of 4th Street.
Allison, being a former trainer and all, can climb the stairs a half-dozen times without much problem. Oh, and she runs a half block after she climbs all 189 steps. Chelsea, thinking this was normal behavior perhaps, did as Allison did. I, on the other hand, climbed the stairs ONCE and then went for a walk.
I walked past the asphalt push-up competitions, beyond a clump of people huffing and puffing as they posed along the guard rail trying to look like they weren't about to die, and around a pair of yummy mummies yacking it up about a sale at Fred Segal. I walked to the only thing I'll really miss about L.A. when I leave again--the curve of the coastline from the Pacific Palisades to Malibu. I imagine what each of the lights dotting the hillside represents: a woman from East L.A. tidying up a kitchen the size of her studio apartment, plush leather couches, shiny Audis parked in a row, a family eating pasta around a giant wooden table bought from a fancy shop on Melrose, lazy dogs taking in million-dollar views on back porches. Sometimes I imagine I am far away from this city, maybe in the tiny village of Deia off the coast of Spain or soaking up Italy's Amalfi Coast.
I think this view is the reason I work out at all.
After my walk down Adelaide Drive, I see Chelsea emerge from the canyon red-faced and panting after 5 climbs up the stairs. Her legs are shaking like Jell-o, so she decides she needs to "walk it off." I take her back down Adelaide, towards the ocean. The view is so stunning you can't help but forget about the fear of your heart literally pounding its way out of your chest. Soon Allison joins us. She has climbed the stairs 6 times, she thinks. So the three of us walk around this make-shift outdoor gym on the edge of a canyon.
Now, this being L.A. and people being people, you are watching other people while they watch you. Women size other women up and men, well who knows who these men are sizing up. As Allison, Chelsea and I were walking back in the direction of our car, I watched the faces of three guys posing in workout positions. (I say posing because these guys weren't sweating a drop, hadn't climbed the stairs once, and looked like they would be more comfortable in front of an Excel spreadsheet than they would be in front of a stack of dumbbells).
First they saw Allison, the trainer in cute green shorts. Eyes boggle. Then they see Chelsea, the college student with youth on her side. Eyes boggle again. Then they see me--the chaperone in old yoga pants.
I've been studying for the GRE lately, a topic that I will discuss a bit more in a post later. Well I should say I've had good intentions to study. And you know what they say about good intentions--a highway to a very hot place is paved with those.
Anyways, I've been sorta studying vocab words and word associations and yucky ol' math. Every day I carry flash cards to work in a nice cotton bag covered in tiny flowers. The cards are divided into three stacks: words I know, words I do not know, and word roots Kaplan says I should know.
I'm packing up now to leave for the day, and I just realized that I haven't taken one look at my flash cards this week. Or my math problems. Or the word roots Kaplans says I should know.
Sigh. Maybe the GRE will give me some points for good intentions.
Yes. I know. You are very cross with me. This relationship has become one-sided. I just take and take from you (in the form of watching music videos and reading articles and laughing at blogs). And I never give back. I'll try to be better. Promise.
In the meantime--a thought. You know how sometimes you listen to a song and you're just hooked by a line or a note? You think, "WOW! This song is so moving." Or you think, "What does THAT mean?" Then you (well, you're the Internet, so I mainly refer to myself) look up the lyrics. That song that was so clever turns out to be kinda dumb. The weird lyric turns out to be kinda poetic.
Internet, I discovered a couple of songs like that this week. They are from "Boxer" by a band called The National.
1."Green Gloves" I love the bass line in this song.
2.Then there was "Slow Show" I hear this bit, and it made me laugh: "wanna hurry home to you put on a slow, dumb show for you and crack you up" And then I read the rest of they lyrics, and they weren't as sweet of an image. Oh well.
3."Racing Like a Pro" I thought the lyric was, "you're racing like a pronoun." Huh? Turns out the lyric is, "you're racing like a pro now." Internet, you'd make the same mistake, too, right?
So forgive me for being a selfish friend, Internet. I'll write you soon. Hopefully tomorrow as the boss is away!
Last month I took a trip to Scotland to visit my dear friend, Katherine. One sunny afternoon, Katherine and I visited a used-book shop near her flat in St. Andrews. Here I found a beautiful leather-bound volume of John Keats' poetry.
One of the poems, "Walking in Scotland," caught my eye as I flipped the old letter-pressed pages during my first night as owner of this book. Keats captures an aspect of Scotland--and Ireland and England and Wales, for that matter--that is hard for a visitor to articulate. Well, it's hard for this visitor to articulate.
"There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain, Where patriot battle had been fought, where glory had the gain..."
The poem, to me at least, articulates the feeling of significance that seems to quietly rise up from the shores of these tiny bits of land that once seemed to conquer every corner of the world. Each castle and stone bridge has a long memory of battles fought and love won and adventures sought.
Lately I've been feeling quite the opposite--very insignificant. I feel as though I will always live hand-to-mouth each month. I am discouraged in the departments of love and looks. I am tired and bored. I feel invisible.
But I know I am not alone in these fits of melancholy.
Today I spoke with three friends. One was fearful about an upcoming change in jobs, another was full of regret for her decision to enroll at a particular school, and the third was discouraged about learning that a guy she hoped would be was actually not to be. In all of these conversations, I wanted to say, "Woe is I! Listen to my pathetic lot! I'm eternally dateless! I'm earning less than all of my friends! I drive a Civic that is covered in dust and dents! I'm so selfish lately I can hardly stand to be around myself!" But I didn't.
Instead I listened in amazement at the words of encouragement that came from my mouth. In this dark place I seem to have taken up residence, I somehow saw light. As with many people, I presume, depression a loyal friend to me. But I am glad to know that this friend, very much unwanted, is not making the decisions around here like it once was.
All of which reminded me of something Katherine said over a pint back in Scotland, the gist of which was: "It's not what we dream that matters. It's what we do when we wake up." Very wise words.
Yes, I know. I owe you pictures from my trip to Scotland and Ireland last month as well as stories of the grand and not-so-grand adventures that have kept me too busy to write to you. For now, a peace offering in the form of a tiny story I wrote for a writing class last year.
The spoon belonged to a set of flatware called “True Rose”. Purchased from a JC Penny’s wedding registry, the spoon was tucked inside a velvet pouch before embarking on a life of transit between drawers, bowls and dishwashers. The stem was graceful and strong; embossed scrolls defined its edges. At the tip, a tiny rose.
To bend the handle, a bit of force had to be applied, for the spoon’s stem never intended to be shaped like a tear. Once the stem bowed and weakened at the center, the spoon could wrap itself around a finger. The spoon became more than a vessel for Cheerios and Fruit Loops.
The spoon was passed—from a girl with brown hair dyed shades of gold and honey to a boy called Tom. The shallow palm of the spoon held one tiny rock. A flame danced along the smooth curve of the spoon, and the rock began to bubble and hiss. First came the smell of marshmallows roasting. Then, like a marshmallow left to rest over a campfire for too long, the caramel aroma burned. By the time the spoon held only liquid, the room filled with the acrid smells of ammonia and sulfur.
Oh sweet alchemy! Several drops of poison transformed despairs into moments of escape. In the darkest of night, time lost all power. A deep, soul-full horn signaled that somewhere, away from here, a train snaked through the thick Pentecostal pines toward the banks of a river.
The spoon sat on the coffee table, its warmth fogging up the glossy cherry finish. The belly of the spoon was now charred, bearing the color of grief.
Last night I returned from a bachelorette weekend on Mammoth Mountain. The bachelorette party included: snowboarding, skiing, a fierce gondola ride up a mountain, Ovaltine with fancy marshmallows, knitting, crocheting, delish food, a whole bunch of laughs. The bachelorette party did not include: cheap liquor served in a plastic cup molded to look like a you-know-what, walks of shame, poles--other than the ones that accompanied the skis, of course.
Today it is raining buckets in Los Angeles, and I love it. I'm using the day to sit on the couch under one of my beloved Avoca blankets and tap away on the computer keyboard.
Here are photos you may enjoy. Acting like grown-ups in the village of Mammoth.
This was taken from the enclosed gondola. At one point, music played from speakers either outside or in the gondola (my friends and I couldn't figure out which). It was like the mountain had a soundtrack!
After taking a gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain, I enjoyed watching brave souls board and ski their way back down the mountain. I was in a comfortable little building outfitted with these nifty telescopes. The brave souls were in the elements, outfitted only with nifty jackets lined with zippers and micro-fibers.
The mountain. So you're not supposed to point cameras directly into the sun. But I'm still a novice, so I pretend not to know these things. I still like the effect, and I love the brilliant blue sky against the snow.
Obviously I'm not indulging in extreme winter sports as evidenced by my wellies, which are typically worn on a farm or while working in a rain-soaked garden. Nonetheless, they looked super cute on the top of this mountain where only "experts" dare tread. I especially liked the handwritten note on this sign that said, "No Easy Way Down." They must not have heard about the gondola rides.
It's funny how some people automatically assign nicknames to the people they meet. As in, during the first introduction. For me this usually looks like this:
Me: "Hello, it's nice to meet you. I'm Elisabeth." Them: "Hi, Liz. It's nice to meet you, too."
What tha? Liz? First--the obvious fact that I have an S in my name and not a Z, but no one ever seems to notice that, so we will just move on from that point. Second--who told you that Liz was OK? What if I prefer Beth or Libby or Betty? We just met. Nicknames are terms of endearment and seeing that I just said we've just met, how are you that close to me to assign me a nickname?
And why do I care so much?
Well, I'm not the only one who cares about the spelling of my name or what I am called (nothing profane, please. my mom's reading this). I have several friends with names that are beautifully spelled-out in a way that isn't likely to be found on a plastic keychain at the mall. They, too, have issues with the whole I've-known-you-since-middle-school-so-why-are-you-still-spelling-my-name-wrong thing. They also struggle with the whole I-have-to-spell-out-my-name-every-time-someone-else-writes-out-a-name-tag-on-my-behalf thing.
Why does it matter? Because your name is unlike any characteristic you have. Your name is your identity in a crowd of complete strangers. Your name is like music on a radio station only your ear can tune into. Your name is the very essence of you.
Indulge me in a brief bunny trail, and I'll bring things back to this point. This morning I spoke in front of my church about the community group I am in. The thought of public speaking with a microphone makes my knees tingle even now as I think on the very act. I am not a professional speaker; I am not an actress (though everyone else in this town sure seems to be one); I did not ask to speak in front of two seas of blank faces staring right back at me (and occasionally yawning). But the topic was important to me, so I did it.
My community group was sort of an accident. I'm really not sure why I signed up to be in one. I guess I signed up because I was looking to make more friends at my church, to make more friends who share my faith, and probably to meet a guy who shares my faith. I feel like a complete oddball in this town, and I guess I was looking for a place where I wouldn't feel quite so odd. Whatever the combination of reasons, I am very happy I signed up. The friends I have made in this group have been such a treat. We haven't really met as a group for that long, but we have bonded in a sweet way rather quickly. It's like having a second-cousin in town. They aren't quite at the sibling ranking, but there is a comfortable level of familiarity that prevents me from feeling completely alone out here in this scattered city.
It's a lot of work to create and maintain community. It's a lot of work to show that you care for other people and to be their community. This is something that I am trying to be better at. Mind you, this goal isn't related to a New Year's resolution because I'm not doing those this year. It's more of a life goal, a trait I want to develop and groom for the rest of my life. I forget birthdays, I forget to email, I am selfish and talk about myself first when I meet a friend for coffee. But I try very hard to not misspell a name of a dear friend or in a professional setting. It happens, no doubt, and when it does I sternly remind myself of the correct spelling and vow to try harder next time. When it happens to me I feel an immediate unfamiliarity, as though I am in a relationship where I love him more than he loves me. It's not the end of the world though, so I just get over it.
Back to this morning. A good friend of mine sat next to me before I was to give my little talk the first go-round. She opened her bulletin as I fumbled for gum or a mint or whatever it was I fumbling for. She nudged my arm, pointing the bulletin. And there it was: Elizabeth
I thought: "Well, if I royally mess up I can just blame it on that girl, 'Liz.'"