Oh, this is my favorite thing...

My brother just sent us the the first season of Arrested Development on dvd, and it's a damn good thing I have the week off, because my sides hurt so much from laughing that I can barely stand up. I've seen it before, but it's like it's funnier now...

Tomorrow it'll be back to running and skiing and climbing and stuff, but for now I'm tucked in beside the dogs, knitting things and laughing at the funny Bluths.


Yeah, but I still feel rejected.

I got an email, on Christmas day, telling me that my "This I believe" essay wasn't chosen to be read on NPR, but will be placed on the website instead.

The email went on, "Please don’t consider this in any way a "rejection." Our criteria for broadcast consider many factors beyond subjective notions of quality. We air only a fraction of one percent of those submitted, and we must balance our few selections across themes, perspectives, diversity of sources, and so on."

A fraction of one percent? I'm not sure I believe that, and despite the email's best intentions, I still feel rejected.

Here's the thing, though, about my essay: it's too preachy (they specifically ask for no preaching) and I don't like the ending. I mean, I wrote it in seven minutes, so maybe if I'd tried a little harder, followed the rules and gone through it at least once with a red pen, I might have had more of a chance....

Which brings me to the subject of goals.

Athletic goals almost always end badly for me. I lose interest halfway there, or I get distracted, or I can't take the pain and repeated failure that comes with trying really hard. I'm embarassed to say this, because I live in a world where athletic achievements are paramount and much else falls away unnoticed, but I'm hardpressed to think of a single sports-related goal I've achieved in the past few years. Oh, who am I kidding? I have barely done a damn thing in the past few years - the flux and buck of life proving almost too much for me to bear, having struggled, most mornings, just to get out of bed.

So I think I need something else. While part of me is inclined to say, "My goal is to climb the orange 12a at the gym," I know that as soon as I declare it, I'll lose interest.

Also, I give up when it gets hard. I tend to choose the easy path. I don't see stuff through. This post is beginning to seem like a reverse online dating ad. "Lazy woman with untrained dog looking for..."

Just kidding. We all know that Arnie is very well trained. Not by ME, of course, but trained nonetheless.

But it's easy to make athletic goals, because sports - as much as I love the things I do - aren't what I hold most dear, and if I fail at them, well, hell, "it's just a game."

But to fail at writing or playing the guitar or being a mom to Arnie or finishing the New Yorker in the alloted week (harder than you'd think)....that would hurt. That would mean I've failed at the things that matter most, and that's a whole other kind of disappointment.

That's why I didn't want to post the link to my essay - I'm afraid to open that part of my life to public scrutiny. People can say I'm a lousy skier or climber or runner or whatever (I also totally suck at dodgeball), and sure, it hurts, but none of those sustain me from the inside when all else falls away, and none of those allow me to meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.

So my goals, to be truly worth something, to be harder to just blow off, need to be real and honest and deal with the things I'll never let go.

You heard it here first, my goals for 2009 are as follows:
1. Play the guitar. PLAY. Not strum and hum along, but really play, really make it sing.

2. Read The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, Nat'l Geo and The Sun by the time the next issues arrive. No more leaning tower of periodicals on my nightstand (aka, an upside down Thai laundry basket).

3. Get writing published. In print, not just online. This involves the bigger goal of facing fear of rejection, potentially again and again and again.

4. Remain motivated at work. I love my new job. I'm excited about work in a way I haven't been for years, and I want to hold on to that.

There's one more, but I'll tell you about that another time. Right now, I'm going to finish reading this article, which references a place near my childhood home, a place I'd love to make my home someday. If they stop mining. And if they grow bigger mountains so Brad would come with me.


But then, I do love the lights

The Impoverished Preppy made an interesting comment on my last post; she mentioned that the thought of no holiday decorations made her a bit sad.

And as I thought about it, I had to admit that it is a bit sad to not honor the season with lights and candles and greenery. Nativity scenes and santa bullshit aside, there is beauty to the traditional decoration of the season, and much of it has little to do with the churchy, commercial nonsense I so dislike.

I dreaded winter in Sweden, when the sun appeared only from 11 am to 2 pm, until I learned how Swedes celebrate the season of darkness. In November, when the gray of the world is at a maximum, they light candlabras and lanterns and live in cozy firelight until spring. It is beautiful and heartwarming, and now that I think about it, an ideal way to honor the season, the Solstice, Hannukah and Christmas.

After living there, in the cold, blond North, I made candles an everyday part of my life. The rituals of lighting them and blowing them out became like a prayer, and so even though I claim to eschew all things religious, I have to admit that I do feel a universal greatness when it's dark except for fire (and, honestly, I even little twinkle lights are really pretty).

Sigh. There goes my hard stance on all things Christmas. Full disclosure: earlier this year, I said to Brad, "Maybe we should get a tree. Not for stupid ornaments, just for lights and my pretty fabric garland (see below)." And he looked at me like I was high. I think he loathes the holiday hooplah even more than I.

But we'll see. I love, love, love this festive garland I fashioned from pretty fabric scraps. It's one of the most delightful things I've ever seen - like a tutu in its over-the-topness, but free of red and green and Jesus...just how I like my holiday stuff.

Big Arnie, who turns 5 years old on December 26th, makes a charming model, no?


The Grinch She Smiles

Me? Not a fan of Christmas. The materialism makes me sad; the stress over gift-giving and tension that goes into the "perfect day" just leaves me tired and empty. It becomes so routine and expected that the kindness and generosity is stripped away. People get mad at me because I say I don't want anything for Christmas, "Well I HAVE to get you something," they bark. And I think, "No. No, actually, you don't."

(For what it's worth, I feel similarly about weddings, though my own ended up being wonderful, mostly because my family and close friends understand and accept me for the grimpy, grinchy cynic that I am.)

That said, while I eschew gifts and church and stories about dear lord baby Jesus, there is one Christmas tradition that I love: the Christmas Tree Star commercial from Eat'n Park.

Eat'n Park is a Denny's-style restaurant chain as ubiquitous in Pittsburgh as Italian-American men in tracksuits. There are A LOT of them. Eat'n Park, while nothing special, gives me fond memories of all the phases of my adult life. As soon as my friends and I turned 16, we borrowed our parent's Jeeps and Honda Accords and drove to the franchise that bordered the next school district. We nursed weak, tepid coffees for hours, vying for the attention of the guys from Latrobe and waving off the waitresses who tried to kick us out. Later, when I was in college and home for the summers, I met my mom at the Eat'n Park near the hospital where she works, and we ate fruit salads and muffins and talked about everything. A few years after that, when my grandma developed Altzheimer's and moved to a care facility, I went once a week with my grandfather to the Eat'n Park near his house, and we ate eggs and toast and drank that same awful coffee. Some days we talked alot - one of us telling stories that sounded fantastic and improbable to the other, two generations apart - and other mornings we ate our breakfasts in a comfortable silence.

There are hints, in the paragraph above, as to the origins of my grinchiness. In case you missed them, here they are: I miss my family 365 days a year, but Christmas is especially hard. I miss my grandparents and my parents and my brother. I miss our dear family friends who are as much a part of the Cavicchio holiday as any blood relative. I miss watching Tucker, the Golden Retriever I grew up with, gaze at the christmas tree, which he typically befriended early in the holiday season and subsequently spent many hours a day admiring. I miss the party we had every Christmas Eve, for family and friends and neighbors. I miss the quirky guests who just wouldn't leave even though the wine was gone and we were doing dishes and it was nearing 1:00 am. I miss good Italian food. I miss Christmas day napping and reading. I miss skiing after Christmas, every day for the whole week, until the New Year. I miss being so close to home.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, I could go home for Christmas. Why don't you, you say? Why are you bitching about something you can change with a click of your mouse and your Visa card, you ask? Because my home is here now. Because I need to give this place a chance to matter to me like that place does. Because I don't want to be away from my husband and dogs for the holidays, even holidays I refuse to acknowledge. Because I owe it to myself and Brad to make our holidays OURS, to develop our own traditions.

And we're working on it. We try to ski every Thanksgiving, even if it's lousy snow. It sort of marks the unofficial end to climbing season and start of ski season, and it's always nice to share our first (or one of our first) ski tours of the winter with each other and our close friends. We've spent Turkey Day skiing with Matt, Ed and Mitchell, all dear friends and current and former housemates (all of whom belong in the housemate hall of fame).

And for Christmas, we're starting to establish similar traditions. We ski on Christmas morning - that much is certain. We've spent Christmas Day with the guys mentioned above, as well as with Chris and Ari and, a rare treat in the Wasatch, our two dogs. I'll never, ever forget hearing Chris, who was a fairly new skier, shout, "Can you please call off the dogs?" as he struggled to stay upright in the White (or was it Pink?) Pine area of Little Cottonwood. Arnie and Red were so excited to ski with him that they were leaping around him and in front of him and bumping into him and trying to chase him. Poor Chris didn't quite have his ski legs on, and at one point, the three of them went down in pile of fur and limbs and skis and poles. Chris emerged smiling, of course. He always did.

We have another Christmas tradition as well: we don't exchange store-bought gifts, opting instead to just spend time with each other - whole entire days together are rare for us in the winter due to Brad's work schedule, so when we get them, we honor them. We sleep in. I drink coffee, which Brad makes for me. We go skiing. We come home and play with the dogs. We (ahem, Brad) build a big fire. We play Scrabble. We hang no lights or decorations, and the closest thing we have to a Christmas tree is the chopped pine lining the house, waiting for its turn in the stove.

It's not what I grew up doing on Christmas. It's not what Brad grew up doing on Christmas. But it's what we know and what makes us happy, so moving forward, while a part of me will always miss the weird Cavicchio family tradition of Christmas lasagna with Grandma's meatballs, it will become the right thing.



I'm busy enough at work that I don't have time to browse the Internet for funny or beautiful or interesting or noteworthy things. As a "creative," though--that is, one who's responsible for developing (or, ahem, "concepting") advertising campaigns, headlines, taglines, etc.--I grant myself a few minutes a day to check out websites and blogs that inspire me in the professional realm....forgive me for not checking out your sites at work, dear readers; I like to save them until I can really read and not just look at the pictures.

While the following aren't necessarily related to writing or advertising, they are the few sites I allow myself to peruse (bonus points if you know the definition of peruse..it may not be what you think...) at work because they are so creative, so lovely, that they put me in the right frame of mind to be creative. (I know, some of them are on the blogroll to the left. That's ok; they're worth double mentions.)

Posie Gets Cozy

Anna Maria Horner

Heather Bailey


Apartment Therapy

Print & Pattern

They all offer pretty pictures of cozy spaces, self-designed fabrics and crafts and wonderful ideas to filled creative time...finding that time is up to you, and is another story.

As I left work tonight, I was clutching a list in my hand. It said:
Library - return books and pick up holds
Blockbuster - return movie
Playtime with the doggies
Finish fabric-scrap garland
Finish surprise knitting project for _____
Begin surprise knitting project for _____

I got through the laundry, and there's nothing left. I have plans for an early, early run with a friend, am still shaky from a lunchtime workout with another friend and have to fold a mountain of (finally) clean clothes.

Check out those sites, though. They're like tea in a window seat on a cold, rainy afternoon.


Warm and Cozy

I am a lousy firestarter.

We heat with wood, so this is a problem.

After ski touring today, I came home wanting to cuddle the dogs and watch a movie and maybe take a nap, but there is no comfort in doing so next to a cold, dark woodstove.

My poor husband was at a ski demo all day and a clinic this evening, so for him to come home to a cold, dark house would be terribly unfair. I have to figure out why this wood won't catch (it's dry, pitchy pine; it's charring without burning makes no sense) before he comes home.

That said, it's pretty comfortable here on the couch, Arnie on one side, Red on the other. Their warm furry bodies making a dent in the cold. We're watching the Namesake, based on the book of the same name, one of my favorites. It was originally a short story, which the author, the brilliant Jhumpa Lahiri, expanded into her second book. If you haven't read her stuff, I permit you to stop reading my blog for the time it takes you to track it down. Then you have to come back.

That's all I have for you tonight. I'm happy, very content with two fun days in the mountains, and it's hard to write when I'm happy. It's easy to upload videos of singing muppets, but it's hard to write in a voice I like. It sounds, to me, too braggy or inauthentic. I'm going to work on it, but now, I'm going to try to light another fire.


In the past month...

I've submitted an essay to NPR's This I Believe and two poems to the New Yorker.

Chances so small you need a microscope to see them, but it makes it exciting to check my email every morning.

I'll post all three here, at some point, but for now, this - an old favorite from Robert Bly:

The Face in the Toyota

Suppose you see a face in a Toyota
One day, and you fall in love with that face,
And it is Her, and the world rushes by
Like dust blown down a Montana street.
And you fall upward into some deep hole
And you can't tell God from some grain of sand.
And your life is changed, except that now you
Overlook even more than you did before;
And these ignored things come to bury you,
And you are crushed, and your parents
Can't help anymore, and the woman in the Toyota
Becomes a part of the world that you don't see.
And now the grain of sand becomes sand again,
And you stand on some mountain road weeping.
-Robert Bly

The title of this cartoon is: "I'm a Tricky Mother F#%ker"

From the hilarious Natalie Dee.


Live the Questions and Watch More Muppets

My hair isn't all THAT awful. Thank you for your concern (Lisagh, I am truly laughing about the whole thing now...thanks for reminding me to do so). As you all reminded me, there are millions of reasons to smile.

Like this:

And this:

And, my all-time favorite, this:

I mean, with the hats and sweaters? Please. What could be funnier?


It's Rilke's birthday, and despite his being a skeevy lothario who preyed on rich old women, he wielded a hell of a quill. We have him to thank for Letters to a Young Poet, which popularized the idea of "the journey is the destination." Here's an excerpt, courtesy of The Writer's Almanac:

"You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now."


I Used Real Butter.

My hair has been a dried-out nest of split ends for about 3 weeks, and tonight I made the time to get it cut. Even though I know better (I've been burned before), I decided to go to one of those cheap, chain haircutting places; I just didn't have the energy to make an appointment. Of course, the cheap, chain haircutting place could fit me in right away.

Note to self: Never trust a service professional who isn't booked at lease a month out.

The girl who cut my hair had highlights so variegated she looked like a goddamn parrot. Regardless, I was desperate, and I thought (erroniously it turns out), "How hard can it be to trim straight hair?"

Note to self: You are an idiot.

I now have two levels of hair - one to my shoulders, the other to my ears. I look like a topiary. I have a shelf on my head.

I came home raging, in tears, upset about the bad haircut but mostly mad at myself for willingly entering this situation.

I wanted to call up Rainbow Brite and tell her that if I did my job as badly as she had just done hers, people would die. That's not true, but I'd say it anyway. And I wanted to tell her to keep the $16 I'd spent to look like a quaker with a mullet, because she obviously needed it for beauty school.

But then I thought, "oh my god, it was $16 and she stands on her feet all day cutting the hair of people who probably ignore her, and really, I feel sorry for her."

I'm still pissed off about my hair - it's so bad I'm going to have to get it cut again just to undo the damage - but I'm over my anger at the cockatoo. She can't help it, she was probably blinded by chemicals from her striped hair leaching into her scalp.


After the storm of fury (and many, many minutes spent petting the dogs and listening to Brad tell me, "it's reall not that bad"), I started to think about dinner. Being all wound up, I was seeking comfort food, and the thing I've been wanting most lately is the old Italian staple of peppers and eggs.

Thinking of my little Grama, who was always, always cooking, and who made the most delicious peppers and eggs in the world, I passed over the olive oil for butter - her pan grease of choice.

I sauteed the onions the peppers in bubbly, hot butter, then poured in the whisked eggs and stirred. I ate them with toast and more butter (I guess I'm on a kick), and temporarily forgot about how my now head resembles a toadstool.

Jen is right. It's best to use real butter.


Skiing Makes Us Happy

The next post (or last post, depending on what order you're going in) is long with no pictures, so here's one to make things more interesting.
From our Thanksgiving Day ski tour - short but fun, around Alta. Our housemate, Matt Turley, was with us and took the photo. As you can see, he's very good at what he does.


This Thanksgiving was one to remember. We didn't take an epic trip or cook an amazing meal (I know better than to even talk about cooking with the likes of Cindy and Jen whisking around the web); we just hung out. Just the two of us (four if you count Arnie and Red, 16 if you count by paw...) with no agenda.

We skied a little bit, climbed a little bit, played a ton of Scrabble (I lost 4 games in a row, but my prowess has since returned), watched movies by the fire, ate tomato soup and simple vegetarian food (very satiating when I thought about all the turkeys being slaughtered) and knitted. I rode a motorcycle for the first time (and loved it, though that's another post), caught up on The New Yorker and made a dent in the stack of Suns that have been taunting me for months.

I opened old books of poetry and was reminded how words, strung together in particular ways, can stop my heart. And I think part of the reason I love poetry so much, partly why I will always select a collection of poems over non-fiction or a novel, is that it welcomes emotionial reactions.


The four men who wrote five of my favorite poems seem prone to those dramatics. The Embrace, by Mark Doty; The Face in the Toyota, by Robert Bly; Home Again and On Turning Ten by Billy Collins; and Touch Me, by Stanley Kunitz. Similar in form and tone, similar, even, in subject matter, these five poems affect me the same way every time I read them, no matter how often I read them.

And I think of these four men when I watch my husband, whom I love and adore more every day, react coolly and smoothly to unexpected situations. His ability to deal never fails to leave me awestruck. While I throw myself on our bed, in tears and hysterics, complaining that the world is falling apart and lamenting everything from the condition of the economy to not having enough time to take Arnie for a proper run (and in my mind, those two are given equal weight), he rubs my back and tells me that everything is going to be ok, that everything will work out, that there’s no need to worry.

And in those moments, I'm grateful for the men who write the poems I love, but I'm far, far more grateful for Brad, who is so unlike them and me, who can read a poem and find it nice, but not internalize it, not take it on as his own. It's a skill I'll never, ever have, but it's something I need to be close to, because it helps me make it through each day. He is rock, not river, touchstone, not flame. Without him, I'd be reduced to tears by the sight of the front page, by every report on NPR, by the thought of Arnie growing older, by the uncertainty of the future.


Sometimes I wonder why people suggest I read particular books. What in those pages makes them think of me? And what in me makes a certain character smack familiar?

It happens all the time. More than, “Oh, this was a good book, you should read it,” people seek me out and say, “I thought about you as I read this.” And I’ll smile and accept the recommendation or, sometimes, the book itself, and as I start reading, I'll think, “What? Why?” Because often, I see no connection. Often, I don’t like the book or main character, and I'll feel a bit awkward and confused about the whole thing.

But then, sometimes I read something that I want everyone to read. Something like a Billy Collins poem. Something equal parts light and dark, something that stops me, that sees me there at my desk, shaking my head in amazement that people can write openly, so well. And in those times I don’t stop to wonder why I want to share this thing, I just want to share it. I want everyone I know to feel as jarred into presence as I was by those words. Today was one of those times. I came across the poetry of Maria Mazzioti Gillan, and I couldn't stop reading it.

I couldn't wait to get home and post it here, so you could read it, too. It resonated so strongly for me, was so familiar, was so heartwarming...but then it occurred to me that without a little Italian American grandmother and an upbringing in a city of industry for reference, these poems might mean nothing. And I realized then that even if they fall on deaf ears, even if you look them over and say, "yeah, they're ok," I still needed to share them; I still wanted you to have the opportunity to see them for yourself. I'll start with this one:


After school on ordinary days we listened

To The Shadow and The Lone Ranger
As we gathered around the tabletop radio
that was always kept on the china cabinet
built into the wall in that tenement kitchen,
a china cabinet that held no china, exceptcups and saucers,
thick and white and utilitarian, poor people’s cups
from the 5&10 cents store.

My mother was always home from Ferraro’s C
oat factory
by the time we walked in the door
after school on ordinary days,and she’d give us milk with Bosco in it
and cookies she’d made that weekend.
The three of us would crowd around the radio,
listening to the voices that brought a wider world
into our Paterson apartment. Later

we’d have supper at the kitchen table,

the house loud with our arguments and laughter.
After supper on ordinarydays, our homework finished,
we’d play monopoly or gin rummy, the kitchen
warmed by the huge coal stove, the wind
outside rattling the loose old windows,

we inside, tucked in, warm and together,
on ordinary days that we didn’t know
until we looked back across a distance
of forty years would glow and shimmer
in memory’s flickering light.