Monday, January 31, 2011


Just now I stepped outside to pick a Meyer lemon for my tea. I twisted the fruit to break its stem away from the tree, and the perfume rose up in the chilly night air. How did I get here? I'm always wondering that. It's a good way to live, that wonder.


It is like a bonus, the thirty-first day. Suddenly, no more fog. Blinding sun. Raging blue, and lacy wisps of cloud to prove the Earth hasn’t stopped in its tracks. Oh, wow. We are never still.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not a Metaphor (No, Really)

When all I can see of a day is a consistent layer of gray cloud cover, it's easy to forget that the sky itself is always blue.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Here We Are

Just in case you were wondering.

•pretty much everything•

Perfect. (Comma, the need to be.) Is it learned? On the way home from Berkeley, we started talking about how hard it is to work against the crushing need to be perfect. Here at Half Assed Mama, we've been struggling with that for most of our adult lives. It's a good fight. Perfection is alluring... and also a complete and utter illusion. (Read: waste of time.) For me, at least, one way out from under the spell is to fully embrace the opposite. Dot com.

My game plan? Celebrate flaws. Half-ass it, as a rule. You would think it'd get old, but honestly-- the more I relax my standards, the more attainable "perfect" becomes. What is perfection, anyway, but a decision we make? I'm looking around at a sea of wholes. A life, with all its ridges and creases. Some friends and I have a corny way of nudging this along. "Choose life," we say, and laugh. It works. xox


Eucalyptus Buttons

Even now, the scent of eucalyptus is romantic, dreamlike. Sharp. Clean. It is to the scent of a conifer or mint as cardamom is to cinnamon, as a quince is to a pear--like, and yet unlike; an exotic, sophisticated cousin. It's the scent of fog rolling through Golden Gate Park, of the twists and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway, of sunset on a cliff over Point Reyes or out over the Bay from the Berkeley hills. The scent of beauty so great that even now, after eleven years of knowing it, I can't take it for granted.

Friday, January 28, 2011

•swore I'd never•

The list is long. Before having a baby, I had ideas of absolute grandeur. No store-bought wipes. Nothing conventional. And, when the time came for sandwiches, crusts would never, ever be removed.

Behold, the Millennium Falcon sandwich-cutter. A Christmas gift.

Also featured in today's episode of What Kind Of Mother Am I? A mayonnaise sandwich. Requested by the three year old for his lunch, and, in my weakened, uncaffeinated state, agreed to--with crusts removed, a la spaceship.

Not *all* of my why evers have been replaced with why nots, but some mornings it feels that way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


At a stop light, a flock of birds: Like one body made of hundreds, they drew a perfect circle in the sky, over and over and over--flying, soaring, dipping downward, up again. Once, they changed direction, made a sharp right, then returned to sketching their imaginary circle. Effortless, breathtaking.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Thanks to a lingering cough, I got to skive off work early tonight. I raced home with milk, a culled grapefruit and satsuma, some expired yogurt. (To the grocery store workers go the spoils.) I pulled into the carport, so excited to see my little one before bedtime. We are short on dinners together, since I work late three or four nights a week. It was dark in the house. No little one. No husband. They were gone. Then I remembered: Monday. Dinner at Cassie's. I imagined them laughing, eating cornbread in that toasty living room, Cassie's daughter Leila with her sparkling giggle and toys everywhere... I let myself in the cold house. A cat was waiting to be fed. A beer was waiting to be finished, in a refrigerator full of good intentions. I have these moments now, alone. Isn't that what I always need? xox

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Hot cocoa, cold. Crumbs for tomorrow's vacuum.
I have a pink and white sewing machine, somewhere

out there. I dreamed the repair shop fixed the part,
picked up the bobbin thread. I woke to my friend's

second pregnancy: a whole new reason
for projects. Fresh crumbs, new cocoa.


Friday, January 21, 2011


I'm learning a lot in the self portraiture class I'm taking, most of which I can't even put into words yet. But on the very simplest level, in only five days, something fundamental has shifted in the way I think about who I am physically in the world. It turns out, once you have even a small handful of pictures you really, really love, all the terrible pictures in the world are totally inconsequential (except possibly for their amusement value, which you can finally appreciate once you feel like they might not actually represent some concrete version of reality).

There's a lot of more important stuff turning up too--about the ways self-image plays into the possibilities we imagine for ourselves, and how the one-dimensional images of beauty we're fed might be holding us all back more than we know. In ways that are the furthest thing from shallow or self-indulgent: Like, the ways that limiting our images of what constitutes physical beauty might limit our imaginations in general. But as I said, I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle writing or talking about those deeper levels yet, so I trust you'll understand if all of that is somewhat incoherent.

Anyway, it's also incredibly inspiring to see the self-portraits of a large group of people, every one of whom is gorgeous. It's inspiring to see all the different ways that people are gorgeous. Seriously, if you hate every picture you have of yourself, I can't recommend highly enough that you take this class at some point. Really. Do the work--which is actually heavy-duty play--and it will change your ideas about what you look like. Quickly.

The biggest technical points I've realized this week are actually stupidly obvious: The more pictures you take (and this week, I've taken literally hundreds), and the faster you take them, and the less you think about them, the greater the chance that at least a few of them will be entirely kick-ass.


The first grapefruit from our tree is vivid yellow. I peel it, cut it into bite-sized pieces; the cutting board is sticky with the juice and the fruit is so sweet and bitter it makes my tongue tingle brightly.

•cat bar•

Overheard: "The cats do have their evening cocktail hour around here, don't they? A certain time of the evening, they like to gather..." For car-top lounging, rat kvetching, tale (tail?) swapping, and a nip or two of collected rainwater from the concave base of a basketball hoop. Jack, Henderson, Sophie, Deja Mu... the whole gang, in the waning sun. xox

Thursday, January 20, 2011


A candle is always sacred. Always, its small spark of energy moves me. I wake to cold and rain, and lighting candles warms me, warms the room, beyond the warmth of the small flames. In the heat and light of summer, candles quiet me and help me to turn inward. A simple act of magic, this balance—when I’m in stasis, the candles move me forward.

•making do•

The dryer broke on Tuesday, during a surge of laundry activity. It was the first of two sunny days in a frosty, gray stretch. Thank you, clothesline! And universe, for the reminder that something is always gained when another is lost. xox

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Night Pictures

Full moon


Night Sky

The sky right now is the darkest possible shade of teal mixed with navy, with swirls of wispy clouds backlit by the moon and stars and animated by the wind.

End of Day

After sunshine and warmth, the wind is picking up, dark is falling, chimes are ringing.


A failure is contingent. You have to attempt, in order to fail, and it is always so good to be attempting something. Failing means doing, trying, working. I live to fail--what better to remind me that all this (grand, sweeping gesture) is earned?

Don't let fear get in your way. Fail, damnit, then get up and fail again.

Nice idea, Harvey. Now, how about you take that pink machine out of the closet and clear off the sewing table you're currently using as a "desk"? That favorite pair of jeans won't repair themselves. xox

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wading In

Because the River of Stones project was just not enough creative activity for this month, I decided (on the spur of the moment yesterday, the last day to sign up) to take a class on self portraits. Partly as a way to exercise my new camera, and partly because I usually *hate* pictures of myself, and I'd kinda like to get over it already.

And I'll be darned if I didn't get a picture I don't hate, right on day one.


When the rain lifts, and there is song
in the outside world, and every shard of color
tugs at your heart
come play, come play, come watch and listen.

(photo by my amazing brother, Art Harvey, copyright 2010)

Monday, January 17, 2011


The cold today is bypassing my skin, aiming for something deeper, making me shiver even as my skin feels sticky with humidity.

•day five of plaguey mcplague•

Feed a fever, starve a cold. Either option is just plain hard to follow through (how do you eat when you can't stop shaking? How do you starve yourself and get all the hot fluids and vitamin C your body craves? Try taking a shot of NyQuil on an empty stomach.) Another saying I just don't get: sick as a dog. As in, gah, I am just so sick. I'm... sick as a dog. Shouldn't that be sick as a... sick dog? At one point, were all dogs just sick, miserable creatures? Most of the dogs I know have better immune systems than triathletes. Survival of the fittest? Has dog DNA significantly changed, for the healthier? I'm not saying there aren't any sick doggles out there [and I am so, so sorry if you have a sick doggle on your hands]. Just pointing out that the formula DOG = SICK is flawed.

The rest of this post is after the jump, to protect my co-blogger and her tender, tender heart.

Unexpected Garden

The back doormat is sprouting the tiniest green shoots. Too young to be identified. I want to move them away from trampling dog paws.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


There is absolutely nothing noteworthy about a cold. Small sicknesses come and go, with fevers and chills and barking coughs--that's life. This week, the kid has been sick (no taking him to preschool), and now I am coughing and sputtering and loathe to leave the bed. Eh. So be it.

However. For next time, I'm making one small vow: I will designate a box of handkerchiefs. Separate, that is, from our dinner napkins. Transitioning a three year old from tissues to hankies is a piece of cake; teaching him which bright squares are not for the nose, not so much. xox

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sun Spots

My dogs move around the house with the sun, warming their fur.


This morning I poured coffee, tossed a glug of cream in absently, went to find the sugar. When I came back, the cream was moving through the coffee like storm clouds across the sky. Roiling. I couldn't bear to put the spoon in till it was done.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


As I left my friends' house tonight, the dashboard clock read their address. This was in the same satisfying vein as opening a red pepper to find a smaller pepper inside... or meeting a park ranger whose last name is Wood. xox

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Small Magic

Next to me: A dirty dinner plate. A mug of now cold tea. Unburned sticks of moxa, a candle to light them, a jar of dirty water to douse them. So many ragged pieces of paper, covered in words. A box of tissues. A stringed instrument from far away--carved images of zebu and lemurs. Stray hard drives, cables. A lit lamp. A dusty capo and tuner. (Dust and dog hair, always.) Take stock, type the words; maybe, for a moment, transform the whole.

Some (Fragmentary, Sorry!) Thoughts on Small Stones

It's interesting to me, the effect that writing these small stones can have. Kerri commented on one of my posts that she thought it sounded like a "beautiful little poem." (And thank you, Kerri--I take that as a very sweet compliment.) And I guess it sort of is. But I never really think of myself as writing poetry--or at least, not anything anyone would immediately identify as poetry.

I do write what I suppose are prose poems, though my writing group and I have jokingly come to call them "lyrical fragments." Mostly because that's not a "real" literary designation, which feels like I'm happily dodging the responsibility for using an established term like "prose poem," but it also feels very true to what's important to me about those pieces. I like the fragmentary, the momentary; I like writing that assumes the job of a snapshot, that tries to capture one particular, specific moment in time.

Which is of course why the River of Stones project is so deliciously appealing to me. But I can't deny that following Fiona and Kaspa's suggestions for how to write a "stone," as they call it, is shifting something. I guess it's making more concrete to me something I've known for a while about poetry--that one aspect of writing it, at least, is about whittling the words you use down to the bare minimum necessary to tell what you want to tell. I've been more focused than usual on this the last week or so, writing these moments of observation. Not all of them are fully whittled down, of course, and which words are entirely necessary is, obviously, always open to interpretation. But it does strike me that much of what I've written so far somehow falls more easily into the realm of poetry than I think my writing normally does.

I've noticed, reading other people's stones, that many folks are choosing to use line breaks. And sometimes I think that works, and sometimes, I find myself wishing someone had left them out--which is neither here nor there, since one thing I hate is when writers critique one another's work in a way that essentially amounts to saying, "Well, I think you should change this, because I would have written this differently." That, for the record, just in case anyone was wondering, is very un-useful criticism for a writer.

(It is also--and I say this as someone who quite often gets paid to edit other people's writing--a super irritating way for an editor to operate. But that's another post altogether.)

Anyhoo--line breaks. I find my unwillingness to use them for these stones interesting. I can imagine how they might work...and then I can imagine how incorrect they'd feel to me. Like someone else's line breaks--like someone who would have written my stones differently.

•a prayer for good enough•

A candy cane.

Natalie's sweatshirt.

Salt dough.


May we continue to find joy in simple things, respect for what is, and comfort in not knowing. xox

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time II

I think I'm beginning to learn that the surest way to slow time down is to stop thinking about it and get busy doing what I love. Time passes. I forget. And then I have to learn all over again.

•"So are we ready?" "No!"•

One morning at work, I found a manila envelope in my inbox. "To Julie and Debbie," it said. It was a series of thank-you notes and drawings from a third grade classroom we visited in November. Since they did such a good job of drawing me (the glasses, the green kerchief, the enthusiasm)... I forgive them for getting my name wrong.

It's pretty hard to find fault with something a kid specifically hand-made for you.


Sunday, January 9, 2011


Shut your eyes and squeeze. Do you see honeycombs and parallelograms? An Aztec blanket, years in the making, pulling the wool over, from inside the inside? xox

Winter Here

There's sunshine, for the first time in days, and through the window, Meyer lemons, fully ripe; lemon verbena, gone wild with the rain.


The dog was a gentle great Dane, with emerald green fur at its belly, and a face unlike other dogs. So big it had to drink from the bathtub.

(It occurs to me that this little stone for the river actually sounds like something that should be over there on Toddlerblog...right beside the pterodactyl story.)

Friday, January 7, 2011


I think of months as if they’re long, as if it’ll be more than a pile of short week upon short week until the fog seeps from the orchards, replaced by buds, blossoms, fruit.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bird of Prey

There's something about looking through a camera lens that's like meditation: The pinpoint focus on one being, one object, one element. Here. Now.

•on collections•

When you get a bunch of things together, don't you just love looking at the set? So many sets in our lives. Leaves on the ground, under a tree. Mushrooms poking up. Fog, seeking nooks and crannies. Visible stars.

We spend so much of our lives arranging and rearranging. Clustering, to make sense. How exactly I got the hang of it, the ability to regard things as whole, I will never know. (Just because I have the hang of it doesn't mean I can always move on. I'll still be tetris-ing certain "sets" for years to come...) Almost everything in life is unfinished. Incomplete. In my early thinking years, I heard this a lot: such-and-such is never finished, only abandoned. I heard those words, and understood they were important, and still--I was dissatisfied with everything I did. Every project, every flippin' cairn. Nothing was ever good enough, nothing "done." My censor was so very, very loud, it's a wonder I'm not deaf today.

Now, I dump out the contents of my green bag (dare I call it a purse?) and marvel at the bits and bobs. Sand. Empty jars of orange peel and cardamom. Sharpies (that's where they went!). A walnut. A cloth napkin, featuring a duck in a shiny red helmet. An uncharacteristic bottle of hand sanitizer. Gathered together, they make a whole. A snapshot. Some kind of story, someone's actual life. I see the set--and, mind you, it's just a pile of crap I'm talking about--and I see that it's complete. As done as done can ever be. Maybe this is a piece of the action/non-action paradigm. Wu wei.

So, I've got some Zen going on, here. About as much Zen as one can pack into a pile o crap with no less than five--5--different lip balms. Huh. This really turns my former aw-shucks-I-suck attitude toward things like, say, my recorded music, on its ear. If I can empty a bag and find magic in crumpled receipts, then.... I can certainly put on an old album and love it for what it is. A set. A snapshot. A done thing, wholly separate from my self, with a life all its own. xox

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Annie Laughing

One dog races around the house at top speed, letting off steam. The other dog watches her, excited, ears up, eyes big, mouth open in a wide doggy smile, looking from the racing dog to me; as if she's laughing, as if she knows I'm laughing too. We're laughing together, my dog and I.

•of use•

Spent the morning giving advice to a young songwriter. Reminiscing, really, over cappuccino. Like a washed-up rocker. "How'd you do it?" She clutched her espresso. Giving advice makes me cringe, but it's tradition. Ritual. It's how I got here. Someone told me I could.

It's good to feel useful. Even if I am rusty. And the tide is coming in. Fast. xox

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Small Stone

The scent of a struck match: dark, sharp, sulfurous, clean. Warmth before the candle is ever lit.


I bought a new journal yesterday. I have several notebooks sitting around, in various partially-written-in states, but sometimes, when you need to start over, to pick up a practice that's been dormant, you just need a new notebook.

I have a bit of an obsession with notebooks actually, but normally, I go for cheap ones--notebooks I'm not worried about writing in, notebooks that are large enough to really spread out in, write big (though I like the smallest ruled lines I can find), be messy, write fast. This has always been important to me, a way of getting around the need to be perfect in my journal, and I know this is a thing--I'm hardly alone in this little neurosis. So as picky as I am about the feel and weight of the book, the particular weight and silkiness and color of the paper, the narrowness of the spaces between the lines, the need for lines at all--as picky as I am about all those things, I generally manage to find notebooks that work for just a few dollars.

But yesterday, wandering randomly around Borders, I was drawn to the Moleskine notebooks. This is bizarre not only because they're super expensive compared to what I usually choose, but because I've had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against them in the past. The damn things are all over the place--they're sort of the the "in" notebook, and frankly, I find the trend vaguely irritating. It's my curmudgeonly side, what can I say?

But there I was, picking up various Moleskine notebooks, and putting them down again, resisting the urge mightily even as I was curious about why the heavy little black book with the creamy pages was calling to me. It took me--no lie--half an hour of touching various books, and then putting them down, and then picking up the other options, and then putting those down--before I could decide.

The one I finally chose is not only more expensive than my usual choices, it's also the size I would normally consider out of the question. It's the iconic 240 page, 5-inch by 8 1/4-inch book, with a hard cover. I finally chose it for a few reasons. First--it's a notebook. Not technically a life-changing or bank-breaking decision. If I'm this drawn to it, it's probably for a reason. And second, it's ultimately a lot cheaper (though less fun) than a trip to London to visit my favorite stationery store, where my very favorite notebooks live. (Though I see now that Muji not only has stores in NYC these days, they also sell stuff online. Oh well.)

So my deal with myself is this: I'm just aiming to fill this book up. I'd like to write every day, and to fill it in a reasonable amount of time. If I scratch out four pages a day, that's two months worth of time to fill the book. I never actually *fill* my notebooks, so that'd be an accomplishment. In the process, of course, my hope is to rekindle a regular practice of keeping a journal.

And there are several things I'm noticing so far as I write in the book. First, I have to admit--this thing is a really great object. I love great objects, and I really love the idea of a journal as an object--as a handmade thing, an art project, rather than some repository for deathless prose. This book feels good, and I like the way the green ink I'm currently using sits on the page. I like the slight curl the pages develop as they're written on. I like the way the book will be fatter when I'm done with it, the way the ink will build up an almost imperceptible layer on each page, giving it depth and dimension.

And I realized, as I wrote in it this morning, that my journal writing these days is tinged with a slight air of frustration, of irritation at my inability to get the words down coherently--at the need to slow my hand down for long enough to capture a thought, when my brain is already racing down the page. My handwriting is worse than ever. And this delights me, frankly. It used to be, at some level, a kind of chore to fill the pages each day, even as I needed the journal to ground me and keep me healthy. Still, each morning, facing an empty page was vaguely intimidating.

But now I've apparently come to a point--almost 16 years into my journal keeping life--where I want to write in it. Not because I think it'll keep me sane (though it will) and I should do it, not because I have anything to say, not because I'm desperate to prove to myself that I'm a writer. But just because my hand craves the motion, because my brain has words to dump out whether they're useful or garbage, and because I like seeing the journal itself develop as an object. I no longer worry what I'll find to write about when I sit down at the page. I no longer question whether there's something to write about. There are always words, and, in my journal, the goal is simply to write them down.

And all these words here, and I think I'm still not fully explaining what I mean. It's something though, about a vital ritual action having become more pure over the years, and more automatic than ever before. About no longer needing the action to result in any payoff in order to act; about the action finally, honestly being its very own payoff. And at the same time, knowing that this new phase of action itself is very likely to open some door I can't even imagine.

•reuse, recoup, regroup•

I've been thinking about convenience, lately. Is there a time when convenience doesn't amount to waste-in-the-long-run? It's so easy to waste. To bundle things in plastic bags and bustle them out to the curb on trash day. So easy to destroy. The challenge of repurposing the fabric of our lives is absolutely staggering. Monumental. Probably the greatest hurdle humankind will ever face. At least it feels that way to me, today, staring at bits of tissue paper and ribbon from Christmases past. I am chewing on that word, repurpose. Yes, we can repurpose our emotions. Our visceral reactions. Our prejudices and judgements. Everything has a purpose, mise en place, and what is the work of forgiveness if not a clear repurposing of energy?

Reuse a ribbon. Reconfigure hatred. Reclaim harmony. xox

p.s. Today's post brought to you by this idea:

Sunday, January 2, 2011


It's been raining here for days. Actually, even for Davis, this has been an unusually wet, chilly winter--which I suppose fits in well with the extreme cold and snow the rest of the country seems to be having. I don't mind the grey at all, but on a walk with the dogs the other day, I was struck by the contrast between the seemingly dull, grey day, and the intense color that's actually hidden everywhere in plain sight.

I'm a fan of this--having to look a little harder to find things that are right there, under the surface. One summer years ago, I was a camp counselor for a day camp run by the 92nd Street Y, in New York City, and I used to play a game with my kids in which I made them close their eyes and listen--really listen--and count the sounds they heard. They were always surprised at just how many things they could hear when they stopped assuming they heard nothing and really began to listen.

Aside from shifting my perspective about what I'm really seeing or hearing, a game like this can really shift my perspective about my location. Yesterday, I spent an hour taking photographs in what, on the surface of things, is just a suburban park/neighborhood. Looked at the way I usually look at things, it's not the most thrilling place in the world--it's hyper manicured and managed; it's hardly a rich wilderness. But it has its own little secrets worth discovering, and taking some time to discover them was a pretty nice way to begin the year.