Archive for January, 2007

Kitty Kaviar

A few months ago, during a long weekend visit with my friend Charlotte, we were out on a lark in the riverfront shopping area in her community. I consider myself no shopper, but in some mysterious way Charlotteis usually able to loosen my tether, so I came home with a new book, paintbrushes, and sketching journals. But there was only thing I can say that she really made me do. She took me into her favorite boutique, “Bone Appetit”. When it comes to animal companions, she is of undivided mind, no questions asked. How could I shirk my responsibility to my cats left at home alone, with her standing there? Even she herself has been know to say, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” I walked out of the boutique (Bone Appetit) with a rather pricy tin of Kitty Kaviar. I didn’t tell Charlotte, but I have never given my cats treats. They are little ascetic beings–I thought–not desiring, and certainly not needing any such rich indulgence. And it was the case, that when they first were presented with this odd stuff in their bowls, they withdrew suspiciously. Somewhat later they kind of sidled up to it and sniffed at it. The second time it was offered, they were not excited, though mildly interested…..Time passes….Every day, as soon as I walk in the house, my big boy, Thresh, is standing by his bowl looking up at me, and whimpering his desire–he who or otherwise rarely makes a squeak. I thought that if I were to keep this up, I would have to find a more economically viable mode. I noticed a little caption on the package, “bonito”. I used to make a soup stock with bonito flakes (for medicinal purposes, of course) back in my macrobiotic phase. So I knew I could get a generic version at an Oriental market–a nice big package. My hunch was a good one. Now I transfer the contents to the Kitty Kaviar tin, to keep in the spirit of the thing, although my cats have never been interested in brands, per se. And by the way, these delicate fish flakes really do make a delictable Asian style soup along with Kombu (a type of kelp), scallions, maybe a little Shitake mushroom, Shoyu, and fresh grated ginger root, all served over buckwheat soba noodles. All of these are available at a good natural foods market. Thresh and Winnow and I are in accord on this.
They must also be rather pleased, as I am, with the Charlotte connection, as it is always to our great benefit, providing our home a less constrained and more amiable ambiance, full of happiness and many amenities of friendship. Very healthful for us all. Look for more on this in future posts.

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the future of my blog

Right now all I know how to do is type in words. I’ve also figured out “b”, “i”, “b-quote”, “del”, “look-up”. None of these show me how to drop in a picture of the Million Word Crossword Dictionary, or photos of my grandchildren and my shop and my cats, etc. But I will learn. I have been given numerous technological challenges for the building of character and an understanding of my need of others. This is very good. In my shop, over the short period of two and a half years I have learned to take in stride the eccentricities of four sewing machines and various ironing devices. Five years ago I was utterly computer phobic, which is a condition that often occurs in conjunction with math phobia. Many years ago I deliberately set about overcoming math phobia by adding columns of figures and even doing long division with a pencil instead of a calculator, or in my head when possible. This forced me to keep a very simple lifestyle which has its good points. Thoreau said something like, “Keep your accounts on your thumbnail.” I thought this was excellent advice and tried to follow it, until, in December 2002, I was catapulted into the school of compulsory computer literacy, when I was delegated, as on a silver platter, the task of managing an on-line and mail order store, which included annual inventory and doing the daily ledger for the accountant. Now I own and manage a business, and keep all my accounts in Quick Books. So why should I fear? No phobia here, just ignorance with a firm resolve. (Note to Tia and David: Is this Living Deliberately?)

Advertising dilemma

The suggested theme for VISIONS (a monthly magazine for our county) next month is, of course, Valentine’s Day, romance, love, etc. The contest for the month is “The Most Kissable Lips.” As this is the primary advertising vehicle for my business, I thought it would be appropriate for me to exhibit esprit de corps, enthusiasm, and liveliness, with the help of my always handy MILLION WORD CROSSWORD DICTIONARY. I have been using it for the past few months to add zest, pep, bite, elan, kick, zing, spark, verve, energy (you get the point) to my little 2 column x 2″ ad. This is much better than a mere thesaurus.

I started with the obvious term: LOVE (see below). What I was reminded of is how odd and slightly bewildering it is to find myself, in the business of clothing alterations, ostensibly engaged with looks, appearances, self-image, facade, personal impressions, exhibition, glamour, stylishness, etc. People ask me, “How are they wearing them now?”(meaning any aspect of any item of clothing). This gives me a huge (interior) chuckle, first of all wondering who “they” are, and secondly, knowing that I am the last person whom anyone should ask what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. But I try not to be smart, spout off, hold forth, go on and on, harangue, spiel, rant, yak, etc. I usually say ” I don’t know”, which is true (believe me). And I may add something like, “You know, opinions differ on these things. The main thing is that you like the way it looks and feel comfortable. Perhaps I can help you determine if things are in good proportion, and feasible.” I spare them, but not you who are reading, this further elaboration: What a person wears and how one appears to others and so forth, are not the things we should love, be attached to, care for, cherish, adore, dote on, esteem, cling to, revere, fall for, idolize, hold dear, yearn for, treasure, hold in high regard…Some of these are reserved for people, although most, in the fullest sense, are appropriate only for GOD.

The big $$ I charge for some operation I have performed on someone’s $2 thrift store find, huge bargain, or hand-me-down is based on the explicit cost or intrinsic value of the item, but on the skill required, the hours involved, the expense of doing business, and the basic (very) requirements for a livelihood. If someone wanted to know, the truth of it is that I believe that whether or not something fits perfectly (per se) is a matter of no consequence in the long haul, and in that sense, this work is worth nothing. I had a friend in college who loved to say in a cultivated sardonic tone, “What difference will it make 10 years from now?” I have remembered it, because it has turned out to be a valuable question to ask. Because on another level what I do and how I do it makes a life or death difference, though not for the sake of someone’s prom or cruise. It makes a difference, now, and in the very long haul (unto the ages of ages), how this day to day grind of work becomes the locus, arena, occasion, for the REAL work of how I treat, regard, respect, honor, dignify, listen to, appreciate, esteem the people who come in to my shop with their clothes and their issues: lack of confidence, bewilderment, stress, anxiety, depression, compulsions, grief, illness, bereavement, etc. The real “tools of the trade” are good ears, compassion, a sense of proportion and balance, a responsive spirit, unceasing prayer, a quiet heart, humility. It will take a long time to acquire all the fine tools I would like to have. But I have an inkling, clue, glimmering, hunch, indication, intimation of them.

I am always thankful for and to Chris K who owns and edits VISIONS. We have an ongoing dialogue about such things, and I have found that preparing the ad every month gives me a good arena for assessing, weighing, pondering, reckoning, sizing up, balancing, appraising, keeping tabs, paying attention to what it is I am really doing (or not doing) or want to–am given or called–to do.
And of course I am thankful to Daniel Stark and Stanley Newman who wrote this phenomenal work: THE MILLION WORD CROSSWORD DICTIONARY (the world’s biggest, newest, most complete crossword dictionary by far), Harper Resource, 2004. Not that I have any inclination whatsoever to work crosswords, but this is a great (and thick) book, astounding, highly entertaining, and helpful in other ways. It fits my main criterion for a good book: that it will change my life.

Oh, by the way, this is what my proposed ad copy for February is: FITTING DUDS, GARB, GEAR, FROCKS, FINERY, RAIMENT, REGALIA…

On my birthday at the Leavetaking of the Feast of Theophany

Today is the turning from Theophany toward Pascha.
Though I was born on this cusp,
for the first time I see to note this as a sign,
an auspicious crossing point
of the unseen footprints in my story.
Looking either way from this signpost along my yearly way
I see the Lord busy in hell,
here crushing the heads of dragons in the waters,
there at it’s gates trampling down death by death.
So whenever I stand at this place in the road from one year to the next,
the promise–echoing the voices of prophets and kings,
of saints and monastics, and of common readers of daily prayers–
will resound in the question
“Whither shall I go from Your Spirit,
or whither shall I fllee from Your presence?…

I have been in hell this year.
The sight of it is vivid and I am trying to learn
not to avert my eyes,
or to give it a pretty face,
or to find some desperate excuse
for why I happen to be there.
This is not a cry of despair,
though at times I feel it stalking me.
You are growing in me an understanding,
incrementally, as I can bear it, of this:
“Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.”
You have descended to us:
by You all is cleansed,
by You all is sanctified,
by You all is made whole–
Now, and yet not fully, but will be finally.
What I see rarely appears so–
pain and sorrow, the rapacious fecundity of blind nature,
or human wickedness hurling oblivious toward death.
But if by Your grace, and according to your strength,
I remember Jerusalem,
I can dare to seize them burning as they fly,
to carry them, trembling and weeping, a right sacrifice,
to Your altar, on behalf of all and for all.
Whatever is the appearance,
whatever the apparitions of the darkness,
from the ages to the ages, it all belongs to You,

Do I have any big plans for my birthday?
There is at least one sort of answer that is,
I admit, beyond the purport of my friend’s question,
and yet includes it and all the other issues of the day.
Here is the answer:
I will spend the day in hell.
I will spend it there with enemies and friends–
whom I sometimes have trouble distinguishing.
I will be alongside those who are suffering,
who have died and are dying–
of diseases, of dimentia,
of desparation, of loneliness,
or just in the inevitable end of life even well-lived,
with those who are persecuted and in prison,
with the angry, addicted, deluded,
or merely annoying.
I will pray for those who have fallen into
the pits they have dug for themselves
in the secular kingdom of rationality.
Facing East, I will stand with them,
even if their backs are turned.
And I will fall on my face, and weep with them
if they weep, or for them if they cannot.
They are not mine to give to You.
We are all Yours alone,
and evenYou always suffer us to choose.
But stand with them I must.
How can I get out of here alone
If they are Yours as I am Yours?
Only together are we in You,
as You are in the Father.
How could I look you in the face and say that all this suffering
has nothing to do with me?

Together we humans have made and are still choosing this hell.
So this is where you have deigned to meet us.
You hem us in on every side,
with Your truth, with Your correction,
with the chastisement of Your perfect love,
So of all that this life is or shall be I will declare
now and unto the ages of ages,
“It is You who have done it.”

Today, remembering your descent into the dark waters of death,
I turn in my heart toward your joyous Pascha.

Martha Jane McElroy
January 11, 2007, Leavetaking of the Feast of Theophany

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