Category Archives: loveables

my grammy the dish

earlier this year my maternal grandmother (a.k.a. grammy) passed away. of course, I was deeply saddened by her passing. I loved both of my grandmothers very much (my paternal grandmother, a.k.a. granny, passed in 2009).

one of my funniest and most distinctive memories of my grammy is hosting a “tea party” for her with my little tea-set… where the “tea” was really bubblegum-flavored toothpaste mixed with water. and grammy, good grandmother that she was, didn’t even bother to pantomime drinking that nasty brew—she actually sipped it down and asked for seconds! I felt so validated and taken seriously… well, as much as a 5 year old can!

such  a cutie-pie. and what an outfit!

she was a very sweet lady whose taglines included “loves and kisses and hugs around the neck” and “good things come in small packages, but so does poison.” she referred to nearly all her grandchildren—and she sure had a lot—as “honeylove.”

she was a Jersey girl of Irish heritage who had a husband she passionately loved (their love letters were ridiculously sweet, devoted and romantic, and sometimes even steamy!), and with whom she had 12 (!) children. she never re-married after my grandfather’s untimely passing in the 1960s, saying “once you’ve had the best, you don’t need the rest.”

young lovers at the jersey shore.

she had a complicated life, with no shortage of challenges (for starters, being a widow with 12 children!), but she was a loving, caring lady, with an unshakable faith, and a sense of humor, and she did the best she could.

after her rosary and funeral services, a few of us family ladies sorted through her pictures and letters. it was a respite from the emotional rigor of laying a loved one to rest—she kept so many pictures, and it was wonderful to peek into the past, looking at the old photos (which I had never seen), and reading her and my grandfather’s letters.


we had the photos scanned, and I recently got my hands on the digital copies. the images in this post are my grammy when she was young, and I just love them. she is so lovely and stylish, so happy and spirited—looking at them makes my heart swell up to 3x its size.

(and they make me wish I could hop in a time-machine and ransack her closet!)

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4th of july weekend

a few photos from this past long weekend:

toots & the maytals show

carnival + fireworks

carnival rides

ferris wheel

view from the top

dog-sitting

not pictured:

* awesome (and free!) Neko Case show at stern grove. LOVE her.

* watching the entire 1st season of “game of thrones” on-demand

* a view of the july 4th fireworks over tiburon and SF

* home-made mojitos

been awhile

well, hello.

it seems I have been absent for some time. well, here I am, alive and well. but the 3 people who read this blog probably already knew that.

I am in the golden state, the place of my birth, the place from which I have been absent for a long time, the place about which joan didion wrote:
“in at least one respect California—the California we are talking about—resembles Eden: it is assumed  that those who absent themselves from its blessings have been banished, exiled by some perversity of the heart.”

no comment, as my own heart resembles something like a ‘perverse’ blend of half California poppies, wine, and ocean water, half crawfish heads, jazz, and Louisiana river silt.

but enough about that.

here is what I am currently reading:

– “listen to this” by alex ross (non-fiction): the new yorker’s music critic on, well, music, from classical (a term he hates) to bjork.

– “st. lucy’s home for girls raised by wolves” by karen russell (fiction): a delightful story collection in the tradition of marquez and katherine dunn. it only mildly depresses me that this book was published when russell was only 25.

– “the purity myth” by jessica valenti (non-fiction): a righteous political powerhouse about america’s (namely the christian right’s) obsession with young women’s virginity, and how it reduces and sexualizes young women’s worth and morality to passivity and virginal “goodness.” valenti kicks ass. this book, in my case, is definitely “preaching to the choir,” but as my sister reminded me recently “even the choir needs practice.”

– “the new kings of nonfiction” edited by ira glass: a collection of essays by glass’s favored writers from malcom gladwell to susan orlean. published a few years ago, and something I’ve always meant to pick up. so far, it’s excellent. of course my love of ira glass is documented.

– “p.t. barnum: america’s greatest showman” by the kunharts (a father and two sons–nonfiction): an awesome illustrated biography of p.t. barnum. as far as historical figures go, I may or may not have a mild obsession with barnum. what’s not to love? insanse hubris! the circus! freak shows! animals! ridiculous (if not exploitative) business-savvy! I’m loving this book, especially all the awesome photos, posters and ephemera from barnum’s circuses and museum in NYC (which burned down in 1865—oh if only time-travel were possible!).

– “the partly cloudy patriot” by sarah vowell (nonfiction): I LOVE sarah vowell, and since her new book “unfamiliar fishes” (about the 1898 annexation of hawaii, which I cannot wait to read) has a library check-out wait-list from hell, I am biding my time by reading through her back-catalog. this is one of her more well-known books, a collection of essays about this here country, and I’m, of course, enjoying it. her piece about visitng disneyworld with david rackoff  is particularly hilarious.

*

completely unrelated, here is a picture of the cake I made last weekend of father’s day:

yum.

butterflies

last saturday, E and visited the american natural history museum on the upper west side. it was delightful, as visiting a museum of international renown tends to be. what’s NOT to love about the ANHM? there’s a full-size faux blue whale! dinosaur bones! teddy roosevelt quotes on the walls! meteorites! old school giant nature dioramas! diamonds! taxidermy galore!

we particularly enjoyed the hall of minerals and gems, where the wittelsbach-graff diamond was on display, a 1600s, nearly 36 carat, “deep fancy blue” rare diamond—wow! I particularly liked the labradorites and opals, as well as the various big giant crystals (although I think too many people touch them for them to give off really good energy). I love this section of the museum for it’s 1960s james bond’s lair feel… I even noticed that the display information is not quite up to date, as one gem was sourced in the “USSR.” ha! but, I tend to think little old-school oversights like that are charming. continuing the geology theme, we picked up a “break your own geode” in the gift shop, too, which is exciting!
we also liked the hall of ocean life, which is classic, and the sleeper-hit (and oldest exhibit at the museum) hall of the northwest coast indians (way cool).

the highlight of the day, though, was surely the butterfly conservatory: a greenhouse-like jewelbox full of HUNDREDS of beautiful live butterflies flitting about, eating fruit and nectar, mating, landing on people, and living the life. it was lovely! E took a few photos:

butterfly at one of the feeding dishes

these ones were gorgeous and have creepily gigantic bodies

pretty detail

butterflies gettin’ busy
(but unable to reproduce in the conservatory, apparently, as there are not the proper plants provided for the larvae to feed upon)

it was wonderful!

other weekend highlights included lots of cooking (french onion soup, roast chicken, caramelized roasted brussels sprouts), MORE salted chocolate mousse (I tell you, this stuff is life-altering), ice skating in midtown (where nobody fell on their tush), champagne, “the big lebowski” viewing, and relaxing. not too shabby.

25 before 26

tomorrow is my 25th birthday.
wowza.

in the spirit of the occasion, I made a list of 25 things to do before I turn 26. they are in no particular order, and some seem much more do-able that others.

here are 10 of them:

* grow something edible [basil, strawberries]

*take a trip out of the country [c0mpleted 12/2011, Mexico… although I *did* know I would be doing this before I made the list… hmm…]

* complete two stories I feel good about

* visit the Guggenheim museum

* get a haircut [chopped an donated a 17″ braid in april!]

* start a retirement account

* Read “The Best American Short Stories of the Century”  (which is 57 stories and 788 pages)

* visit my brother in Maine [made the voyage to maine in january—brrrr!]

* wear fun lipstick more often [a little early to call but so far 2011 is my lipstickiest year yet: there’s no red too bright, nor no pink to hot for me!]

* make a cheesecake from scratch

stay tuned for the remaining 15.

happy birthday to me.

on día de los muertos and those departed

growing up, my school had an annual día de los muertos celebration, where we set up an altar, a fake cemetery and everything. I’ve was always fascinated by the holiday and have a great deal of love and respect for it. I think it is just the most beautiful tradition, and such an affirming way to deal with death and those we have lost: to celebrate the fine line between  the living and the dead, to speak the name of your dead, to take pause to honor and think about those special to you who have moved on into the next world.

la catrina

a few years ago, I went as la catrina (see above) symbol and personification of día de los muertos, for halloween:


me as la catrina, 2008

earlier this year, I even bought a dress printed with dressed-up skeletons for the holiday, which I am excited to wear for the first time on monday.

I am particularly obsessed with the line between the living and the dead, with death itself, and the beauty of the life cycle. always have been—I’m not morbid, I am just a scorpio to the core (which means my tarot card is the card of death, which is actually a very lovely card, representing rebirth and regeneration, the shedding of what is no longer needed.) in the fourth or fifth grade I read “romeo and juliet” for the first time and remember with astonishing clarity (I have a pretty poor memory, actually, just ask my sister) just how deeply it struck me. it did not make me sad, but it punched me in the heart with the profound gravity of love and death, and I just thought it was the most wonderful and tragic and beautiful thing ever. I remember even trying to explain this feeling to my mother, who subsequently became a little worried about me (but I guess when your 11 year old tries to tell you how beautiful the story of two young lovers dying for each other is, that’s a totally logical response) and we had to have a little chat. what a sweet mom.

number XIII, death (rider waite deck)

occasionally I’ll drink too much wine and go on what I’ve dubbed one of my “death rants” (usually to my poor darling, E, who constantly has to endure my nutty cosmic ramblings) where I go on and on about how amazing the cycle of birth and death is, how interesting the process of decay is in our world and how much we rely on it, how wonderful it is that nature wastes nothing and how the first law of thermodynamics always stands true (energy being never created nor destroyed, simply transformed and re-purposed)… etc, etc. none of this is an attempt to intellectualize or lighten the sadness and tragedy that death in our lives can be—the death of a loved one is always absolutely crushing, a wound from which we never fully recover—just a total sense of wonder about the cyclical nature of life and death. I love visiting cemeteries, and have my own little wacky customs that go along with those visits. recently I read about the jewish tradition of leaving a stone at the grave of a loved one at each visit–I just love that. it makes so much sense to me, and also reminds me of the piles of rocks left by hikers and backpackers along hiking trails the world over. when I was very young and on a wonderful backpacking trip in alaska, I loved the moments where we’d find those piles, they were so reassuring but austere.

one of my favorite poems deals with this exact subject matter. it is “peculiar fascination with the dead” by brenda marie osbey, former poet laureate of louisiana. I not only had not only the great honor of meeting ms. osbey a few years ago (and a more fabulous person you’d be hard-pressed to find), but I had the pleasure of hearing her read this poem, which absolutely brought me to tears it was so wonderful. it is a very long poem, but the first stanza is what sticks with me the most (note: basin, canal, valence and esplanade are names of streets in new orleans):

“light candles to honor the dead.
set flowers on the altars of the dead
which must be raised in your home.
wear the memory of the dead plainly
so anyone looking will see
how the decent do not forget.
speak of the dead
as though you thought they might hear
from the adjoining room.
keep mourning portraits
always about your home.
marry memory to the dead.
put silver coins in the corners of your rooms.
pray for the dead.
go into tombed cities
along basin, canal boulevard, valence and esplanade;
carry flowering plants
bits of brown paper
smooth stones
the burdens of what time you have left
to honor the dead
as they ought to be honored.
live among your dead,
whom your have every right
to love.”

that last line in particular absolutely slays me: live among your dead,/ whom you have every right / to love. damn, ms. osbey. as we say in new oreleans, “yeah, you right.” so striking.

I set up a small altar in my home every year in celebration of día de los muertos, and while I’ve gotten some raised eyebrows over the years for this (I am not of Mexican ancestry nor am I religious), it’s a very personal and solitary annual tradition of mine that I very much enjoy. I have been setting up my altar today, after a trip to the florist this morning to get my hands on some marigolds, the traditional flowers of the holiday.  here is my altar from last year:

as I set up the altar, I’m enjoying the fond memories of those whom I have lost, and those who I never even knew but I feel in my heart. I try to keep it positive, to remember the happy times and call up my feelings of love for these dearly departed people. many members of my family have passed in the last few years, and I especially am feeling for them right now.
with this in mind, I have been going through the stack of letters I have from my sweet grandmother, who passed away last year. I miss her a lot, especially at this time of the year, as she would usually visit us in october and really loved halloween—we’d always carve pumpkins, and she even helped with my costume some years (check out the following stunner, where I don a particularly terrifying wig):

and it is so nice to have her letters, to see her handwriting and re-read her lovely thoughts and stories. in her memory, I present some very sweet gems of southern grandmotherly wisdom and general adorableness (these are pulled directly from her notes and letters):

remember that southern belles are frills and lace but have petticoats of iron.”
who still speaks like that! so very sweet.

“hope your easter was bright and beautiful like you are. I dyed eggs tonight, I love to have them, just because they are pretty.”
she, like me, appreciated beauty for beauty’s sake.

this letter is from right after she had her name changed back to her first married name/family name:
“sure was glad to get your note about my name-change. I feel so good with the ketchum name back after 33 years with a name that I wasn’t too proud of… I had to go before a judge to make it legal. it was very interesting and the judge was very friendly. he let me sit in the witness chair, as he saw me with a cane. he had a cane also, he had fallen on our ice (during the ice storm) and broke his leg. we had a lot in common to talk about. ha. so I am legally a ‘ketchum’ hooray!… familys are so important, and you are a big part of mine. I brag about you  a lot to my friends, and carry a picture of you in my purse, so I can whip it out to show what a beautiful granddaughter I have… I’m glad you are doing well in school. love you honey, granny gen.”

“you are special people in my life. I love you forever + ever.”

“I’m doing fine and had such a great get-together at village creek, wish you could have been there. I cooked a soul food meal. we had black-eyed peas, cornbread, slaw, corn on the cob, creamed potatoes and for dessert bread pudding. we had eleven people. so much fun!”

this note is my favorite:
“to my little shadow in louisiana: I was glad to hear from you and so proud of you for getting a job and going to school too. I bet the jewelry shop is fun. I worked one summer in a 5 & 10 cent store after I graduated from high school. that was fun and I loved selling stuff. later I worked as an assistant beekeeper in a wholesale grocery. I worked until I married (at 18 yrs) and was 7 months pregnant, then I stayed with my mom and dad while my husband served in the army in the philippines for 2 years. not the best way to start a marriage, but I don’t regret any of it… I’m glad to have a granddaughter who remembers me in her prayers. I sure remember her in mine. I pray that you will be safe and healthy, and be able to make your grades, and know that you are loved. drop me a line again soon, I love it. granny g.”

(see? I am destined to keep bees!)

during this time of remembering those we have lost, I hope everyone takes time to think of those departed who are dear to them. we love you and miss you.