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Category Archives: Carpe Gaudium

Everything Under The Sun Is In Tune

I showed up at work today armed with a pair of eclipse glasses I scored at the last minute (Niki had a spare – thank you!).  About mid-morning, I found out that Pink Floyd’s song “Eclipse” was exactly the right length as the peak was supposed to be, so I downloaded it, thinking I would play it precisely when the peak hit us here in New York.

I was getting nervous about an hour before, when a bank of clouds started to roll in – right where the sun was going to be.  But then at 2:30, fifteen minutes to peak, i head down to the street with glasses in hand.

Now, if you’ve never seen a pair of eclipse glasses, you don’t expect much.  They’re flimsy cardboard with plastic film lenses; and if you look through them ordinarily, you can see nothing at all.  I’d been playing around with them at home this morning, and it was as if I were blinkered.  So I wasn’t sure what I would see when I got down to the street and put them on.  There was a small cluster of people from a couple of the surrounding office buildings, trying to simultaneously shield their eyes and peer through their fingers; the residual light from the sun was just too overpowering.  I put on the glasses and had a look up.

And I saw a crescent sun.

“Oh WOW.” I blurted out, making a couple people’s heads turn.  A cloud obscured it almost right away, so I snuck out of the direct path of pedestrians, waiting for the cloud to pass.  Knots of people were standing around me, discussing the eclipse; the group right next to me was a four-man team of young men in the starched-shirt and khakis uniform of bankers.  “Where is it?” one asked, looking up.

“It would be that way,” I cut in, pointing.  “Except that there’s a cloud now, so you can’t see anything.”

“And how long is it? Will it get all the way dark?”

“Nah, we’re only going to get like 70% of it.  It started at like 1:30 here, and then it’s at its peak in about 15 minutes; and then after that it’ll start moving away and it’ll be all done by 4.”

“If only it wasn’t for that cloud!” another one grumbled.

“Yeah…but we got like 15 minutes until its peak.” The cloud started to pass a bit, so I took another look through the glasses again, as they talked on, unclear what they were looking for.  Then turned to them.  “Anyone want a look?”

“Sure, I’ll try,” one said, dubious. He put them on.  “And where would I look, right up th-WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!” he gasped when he finally saw it.

“Ooh lemme try!” one of his friends excitedly asked, reaching for the glasses.  “So you can really see it?…..OMIGOD!”

A pair of women behind us saw them react, and heard me laughing.  “Wanna try?” I asked them.

“Uh, sure….” one reached for the glasses, and stepped over towards us, putting them on.  “WHOA FUCK!” she gasped.  Her friend had another similar reaction.  And so did the family of Japanese tourists that was passing by at that moment when I let each of them look in turn as well.

One of the bankers asked to borrow them again, trying to figure out how to hold them in front of his camera and get a picture.  “Here, I’ll hold them for you,” he offered, gesturing to my iPad, and we clumsily tried to get a picture, me fiddling with the camera on my ipad and him balancing the glasses in front of the lens.  The clouds covered the sun again, and I told them to also take a look at the shadow of a tree near where we stood.  “If you look at those shadows,” I said, “they’ll be all crescent-shaped too.”

“What about a pinhole like those guys over there?” someone near me was pointing at another cluster of people nearby, fiddling with a couple pieces of paper.

“Yeah, that’ll work too; it works for the same reason that the shadows look different – there, look!” and I pointed at the ground, at the dappled shadow of the tree near us.  Someone else had my glasses while I got a picture of the filtered-leaved shadow, chuckling as I heard yet another person blurt out their awe.  They handed the glasses back to me when I was done, and as soon as they did, another person asked for a look.  And then another.

I was down on the sidewalk for about a half hour, but spent most of that time loaning my glasses out to strangers.  At one point I was informally assigning numbered turns to people (“Okay, ma’am, you’re next, and then you here on my left – they asked just a couple seconds before you on my right did, guys”).  But everyone thanked me profusely after a look. I even went back up to my office and grabbed one of my colleagues and dragged him down, telling him it would just be five minutes (his reaction when he put on the glasses and looked up – “whoashit, yeah“).

I came out to look at an eclipse. But I ended up being more charmed at the sight of everyone around me all being struck with awe and excitement, and all of us turning into children for a while.

 

 

 

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Speech After Long Silence

It’s hard to blog when you think the world is going to end, and you are watching your country turn into a fascist state.

Like many, I was thrown by the escalating tension between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and the threat of nuclear weapons.  I think I’ve mentioned in here before that I was very young when I learned about the existance of nukes, and because of that, nuclear weapons basically became my biggest fear.  You know how when you’re a kid, you know exactly what the Monster Under Your Bed or The Thing In The Closet looks like? How you’re afraid to go into a dark room because you just know that when you turn on the light, it will be standing there, and you know in perfect detail what it is going to look like?  Starting at about age eight, my Thing In The Closet was a mushroom cloud.

And it’s hard to write when your inner child is cowering in fear that the Thing In The Closet that you thought went away has suddenly come back.

And then fear gave way to sorrow at the events in Charlottesville.  …Although, to be honest, first there was anger – which I turned into jumping on Twitter and ripping off snarky comebacks against any supporters of the Unite The Right march, and to writing to employers and teachers for any of the men who had been confirmed and identified.  But there were just so many of them, and the breadth of the ignorance they had about history, the First Amendment, and racial equality was making me feel like it was all futile and adding to the problem.

I’ve also just been low-energy in general for the past couple weeks (taking steps to fix it, I think I know what’s going on), but that plus fear and anger and sorrow has left me without much energy to do anything except for fart around on Youtube watching kitten videos.

But you know, that’s okay.  I believe that you don’t have to have to turn yourself into a total ascetic when you are trying to work towards improving the world; you can speak out against apocalypse and at the same time notice and appreciate fun and joyful things. I’m sure even the most militant of activists, one whose Facebook feeds are nothing but reposts of notices about rallies and one who spends all of their spare time making things for the next action, feels comforted and gladdened by the feeling of companionship they get from their fellows. There is always a way to step back and notice what’s good.  You can do both.  In fact, you should do both; it’s how you keep your spirit together and give your soul a chance to rest, catch its breath and get ready for the next round.

I think I’m going to start to take more notice of things each week that have pleased me like this.  Big, small, ridiculous, corny, inconsequential – it doesn’t matter.  I’ll post them at the end of the day Saturday, or on Sunday morning; I suspect that the more good I take note of and write down, the more I’m going to see.  Things like:

  • As I was running errands on Saturday, a man on a bike rode past me – and he had his two children on the oversized seat behind him, giving them a ride.  One of the kids was holding on – but the other had arms flung out wide, pretending that they were flying.

I’m In The Money

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So I grew up in New England, and we tend not to talk about money all that much.  Especially if we’re having money difficulty; we go all stoic and stiff-upper-lip and try to “make do and mend”, resorting to repairing things that break instead of buying new or waiting for sales or reverse-engineering our own solutions.  Or just going without.  This is the kind of approach that can be carried too far, of course – there have been times that I have been almost pathologically afraid to spend money on myself.  Also, all the frugality in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re just plain not making enough money to begin with.

That latter state was my lot for the past couple years.  But – the new job has fixed that, and then some.  And it’s taken a couple weeks to sink in, but….I’m starting to get into it.

Now, I’m not going totally bugnuts, buying up entire racks of shoes or renting a yacht to go to Martha’s Vineyard just for lunch or anything like that. I’ve maybe spent more than I should on books, but the bulk of the money I got from my first paycheck went either to paying down some debt, starting a nest egg, or finally getting some long-needed house stuff. (Hellooooooooo, replacement window blinds! Welcome, stash of bulbs! Hi there, no-longer-threadbare pillowcases!)

When it comes to things I’ve been buying sheerly for pleasure, they’ve actually been comparatively modest: a couple yards of fabric to go towards a quilt I’ve been working on (yes, I’m making an actual quilt), a couple pounds of candle wax to round out the candlemaking stash Niki gave me (rather than buying the actual pre-made candles, which was getting costly), or a couple of utterly gorgeous French cookbooks (I make no excuse because I don’t need one dammit).  Or going to the occasional movie.  Or just going out for ice cream or dinner or lunch.

Or actually paying people back.  The thing that saddened me most about being so cash-poor for so long is that my friends have had to cover me more times than not – never anything big, just a couple extra bucks here, an extra five there, whenever we went out.  Or even the convenience move – if a group of us were gathering for a movie run, it would always be someone else who’d say “I’ll pick up the tickets and y’all can just owe me.”  It would always be someone else saying “what the hell, I can put dinner on my card and y’all can just owe me the cash.”  We usually settled up, I told myself, but it would always be someone else making that initial convenience step.

Tonight I am seeing a movie with a few friends; we were planning our attack this morning, and in the middle of the discussion I popped over to the movie theater site and just got our three tickets without even thinking.  “I got our tickets,” I emailed back, “so we can all just meet there.”

“Oh, great! Thanks!”

And the feeling I get simply because I am able to do that – and may even be able to cover them for a car to get them home after – is a feeling that I have been missing for a long time.

Prendre Plaisir

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Somewhere in my travels this weekend, I ended up at a bookstore and was browsing the sale section – and when I saw a huge, beautiful book with the title French DessertsI immediately walked to the cash register with it.  Hey – that’s two of my favorite things right there in one title.

And it really is beautifully done – the focus is on the simpler dishes that people make for themselves at home rather than the fantastical things you’d find in a patisserie.  There are cakes and tarts and such, but instead of elaborate things like a religieuse or a caneleanything where I’d have to wrestle with piping bags, they have simple fruit tarts or plain cakes or puddings.   It’s exactly the way I like to cook – just pick good ingredients and get out of their way.

And I have some extra time after work and a lot of rhubarb and strawberries, and that means I can make something for my book club tomorrow – and that something will be the strawberry-rhubarb crisp bar cookies from the Smitten Kitchen, something I discovered a year ago.  They’re almost perfect – just sweet enough to feel that you’re having a real treat, but low enough in added sugar that you can get away with telling yourself that they make an acceptable breakfast food.  (I ate my way through one batch last week all on my own.)

I also have some lemon-verbena herb-spiked sugar syrup in the fridge, from when I was trying to cut back my lemon verbena plant; it gives lemonade an extra kick.  And I’ve just finished a glass.

So, I am now about to enter my kitchen, where I will make the strawberry bars, and then make a shrimp and noodle salad to chill in the fridge while I stir up some strawberry-laced blancmange and a French take on a chocolate panna cotta.

Yes, this is as life should be.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Summer Is Launched!

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Okay. We all know that summer technically doesn’t begin until late June.  But for most of us, it is unofficially in the national consciousness that “summer” begins on Memorial Day.  And I did have some good news to launch my summer into a good start (I’ll be able to share later), so I’m already in that mindset.  I’m still not going to be able to do much travel (and the news will explain why, I swear I’ll explain, please be patient), so I’m in a “playtime” mindset already.

And that brings in my friends Colin and Niki.  Or, rather, it brings in a habit the three of us have.  They travel a lot – they’re both freelancers, and Colin’s work in particular calls for a lot of travel – and they own a couple of rental properties so they can move around a bit.  And – they also own a car, which they are not always able to take with them – which means that it is in danger of being ticketed or towed if it isn’t occasionally moved to satisfy New York’s parking rules.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had quite so much of a chance to travel like they do (we will set aside my jealousy for the moment).  But – my being stuck at home means I am the perfect car-sitter.  So for the past few years, they have dropped off their car with me before they take off, and I can use it for whatever I like while they are in Honduras or Costa Rica or Newfoundland.  I’ve brought myself upstate for weekend trips, made big-ass Salvation Army or Ikea hauls, and have even used it for the journey home for Christmas when I had an assload of presents and the idea of wrestling things into a train gave me hives.  And except for one unfortunate evening where I had to visit an impound lot (i swear i thought i was outside the bus stop zone i’m still sorry guys) it’s worked well.

This summer, they told me they’re going to Montana and Colorado. But – they’re taking the car with them.  However, Niki had another idea to soften the blow – was I interested in borrowing her sewing machine?  And Niki used to make candles, but didn’t do it so much, and I’d been saying I’d be interested in taking anything she didn’t use, how about I do that too?

And thus, Niki and I spent an afternoon sitting on a floor as I sniffed my way through the contents of three enormous tubs full of essential oils (Niki had them by the quart, people) and made my various requests and she gave me a super-quick candlemaking 101 as she doled out bunches of wicks into different baggies.  Then she showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and we crammed everything into four bags and boxes and she called me an Uber to get it all home.

I’m going to have a tiny bit of a financial windfall soon (again, I promise, the news will epxlain it) and I’m already looking into ways to snazz up my bedroom a bit for summer. Still on a bit of a budget, though.  However – I’ve already found something from my summer bucket list – a shibori dye class in a couple weeks – and had to get something to be dyed in the class, and went with a couple of pillow cases.  But now that there’s the sewing machine, I’m thinking of just making way more cushion covers and pillow covers and just piling my bed with them.   And I just found a decent source of soy wax, and Niki sent me home with 3 boxes of containers for candles, and long story short, I’m already getting going on what is shaping up to be A Summer Of Making Shit.

Summer Tasks

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So I was thinking I’d be doing some traveling this summer, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen after all, outside of some very brief weekend trips here and there.  And for a while I was pitying myself over that.

But no more!  I am going to enjoy myself, dammit.  I am going to make sure I do things that generate more fun, for myself and sometimes for others.  This is a season of fun and laughter and carefree merriment, and I need to make myself embrace that.

So. Herewith: my bucket list for the summer of 2017; or, rather, my bucket lists, because I this thing has run so long it’s got entire categories.

FOOD GOALS

  • Making my own popsicles.
  • Making my own ice cream.
  • Eating ice cream from a Mister Softee Truck.
  • Making an ice cream sundae.
  • Keeping the fridge stocked with peppermint iced tea.
  • Eating corn on the cob.
  • Making pies and letting them cool on the windowsill.
  • Eating a peach.
  • Eating watermelon.
  • Eating a tomato sandwich.
  • Eating a fried clam roll.
  • Keeping various flavored sugar syrups on hand for funky flavored cocktails and iced desserts.

IDLE THINGS TO DO

  • Run through a sprinkler or a hydrant.
  • Do a cannonball.
  • Skip stones.
  • Build a sand castle.
  • Spend an hour blowing bubbles.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Go barefoot.
  • Read in a hammock.
    • Side goal – reading 3 new books.

THINGS TO WATCH

  • The sunset
  • Fireflies
  • The Perseids
  • A thunderstorm
  • Fireworks

THE WAY I LOOK

  • Make and wear a flower crown.
  • Get a pedicure with bright nail polish.
  • Wear a sundress with a swirly skirt.
  • Wear bright lipstick.

ENTERTAINMENT AND OTHER FUN

  • Go to at least three free outdoor movies.
  • See at least two free concerts.
  • Go to a late-night dance event.
  • Throw picnics.
  • Hold an outdoor tea party.
  • Ride the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel.
  • Water slides.
  • Mini golf.
  • Make out with someone.
  • See a movie in a drive in.

EXPLORING

  • Explore 3 new neighborhoods I’ve never been to.
  • Take a class in shibori-style tie dying.
  • Go on a road trip.
  • Get more stamps in my National Parks Passport.

OUTDOORS

  • Go on 3 hikes.
  • Try inner tubing.
  • Stay overnight in a cabin.
  • Stay overnight in a tent.
  • Round up some friends and play backyard games like tag or Red Rover for a night.
  • Have a water fight.

 

So whaddya think?  A good summer, yes?