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coming alive in the cold

At the end of 2016, instead of a predictable year-end time capsule, I explained my year in Rocky gifs, with the main thrust that in 2017, I wanted to catch my chickens, find my place. (That blog had to be removed as about 3/4 of the gifs I used disappeared). If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, I’ve got you covered.

I have so much to say, but it requires words I can’t formulate right now. Someone close to me recently, and “helpfully” suggested a make a “gratitude list”. I winced over-dramatically as is my way and filed it deep in the recesses of “yeah, no”. Over the last few days when I’ve gotten out of my way, yeah, I am grateful indeed for a few things this year, as demonstrated below.

Being invited to participate in my first exhibition.

Falling in love with this joker & bringing him in.

Putting myself back in treatments & thereby back on medication.

Meeting with The Kid’s mom & finding some resolution to 20 years of plaguing questions.

The move that changed our lives in ways we couldn’t even imagine.

Chronicling some of my angst with this broad

I don’t know where I’m going with any of this, which is almost awful because as I’ve said before, I lose my mooring without a plan. But maybe learning some flexibility would be a fine start.

Just gonna keep catching my chicken.

Hope 2018 brings you good stuff & new opportunities.


*hat tip to my favorite band, The Afghan Whigs,  for the title of this blog, from their song “Birdland” on the album “In Spades” that came out this year. Also a high point in my 2017.

Potted Plants

For the love of tacos, remind me next time that moving in the middle of “the season” is not a good idea.  Since the move, everything is weird & feels out of sorts. I feel weird & out of sorts. I can’t seem to get solid footing. Change messes with me.

One evening after dinner, about two weeks after moving, Chris (who was in the midst of the unpacking…everything) mentioned how amazing it was to have so much space and how awesome the yard would look in a year. (The man loves his huge, lush lawn.)

“Maybe we’ll have room to grow here, ” I said. “On Crocus, that place was so tiny. It was like having a plant that you couldn’t transfer to a bigger pot when it outgrew the current one. We couldn’t grow, we were stunted.”

I couldn’t have been more truthful, and I didn’t realize it until later.

With space comes growth, with growth comes change, and sometimes change is incredibly painful. Yes, of course, sometimes it’s amazing & positive & pancake breakfasts. But even the idea of potential pain is often enough to stymie my fortitude on a good day, let alone a bad one.

My discomfort, however, is balanced by the new discoveries of the house, the neighborhood, the geography in general. I never thought I’d sit on the front porch & watch the bats hunt in the evenings. Or the weird fact that we’re in the air pattern now, even though we only moved 6 miles. Watching the cats in any number of windows. Establishing a routine, which has been lacking & taking it’s toll. Without a set routine, I function poorly. But every day, the kinks become just a bit more smooth.

I’m typing this in my new office at home, which is bigger than our previous bedroom. First time I’ve sat at my desk. I’ve got one cat snoring behind me, and one sprawled in the doorway. At this moment, I can’t believe we live here, how fortunate to have this opportunity. I’m trying not to waste it.

Is it snowing in Jackson Hole?

I don’t remember where I first saw the link to this magical place.

It’s just an intersection in a town in a faraway state. I cannot tell you how much joy I derive from this live feed. For anyone else (minus the 288 people currently watching, make that 290) it’s probably akin to watching paint dry. I get that, I really do. (down to 278)

Although there’s not a lot of pedestrian traffic whenever I seem to check in (granted, mostly middle of the night), I’ve gotten in the habit of making up 10 second stories about the denizens of Jackson Hole if I check in mid-day.

Typical tiny stories:

*Oh, I see Linda is out in her red coat. Looks like she’s been supporting the local economy on her 2nd dead husband’s money by the number of shopping bags she’s carrying.

*Look at that cute family coming through the park! I think they have a toddler. Aw cutie pie. Oh, it’s a dog! Aw, cutie pie! It’s wearing a sweater!

*Jane is late for work. Again.

*Mark has been standing outside that kiosk/shed/shack for 20 minutes. Looks cold. He doesn’t appear to have gloves. WHERE ARE YOUR GLOVES, MARK?

And while it’s easy enough to google what’s in the immediate area to see what shops & businesses are in the vicinity, or watch the 24 other live feeds of Jackson Hole, it’s more fun to just work with what I have on the screen. The only thing I know for certain:  if you want the Teton-Yellowstone National Parks, hang a left. Only because there’s a sign next to the traffic light. Everyone seems to be courteous to  drivers & pedestrians alike at Heaven’s Little Intersection, and weirdly enough, I have yet to see a law enforcement vehicle.

One morning when Chris was at work & I was sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee at 5am (2am in JH), I clicked over to see what was happening in my new favorite location. It was so picturesque, this currently deserted crossroads, with the lights from the park & softly falling snow. I may have sighed with contentment.

In a time where my feeds are overwhelmingly angry, sad & confusing, I need these little moments of tranquility. No doubt it’s the same reason many tune into the Cape May live feeds, which I’ve never viewed. Why would I? I know when I can find my friend John Cooke down at the Cove walking Joy, his gorgeous golden retriever, and shooting the sunrise. I forget that my everyday existence in the seaside town where I grew up is someone else’s vacation dream or few minutes of escape.

So enamored, I checked possible vacation itineraries at a variety of local inns, lodges & AirBnbs. I burst out laughing with my findings. “It’s like Cape May, but in the mountains!”

Little moments of peace, little moments of serenity. I’ll take ’em where I can find ’em. Even if it’s as a peeper from 2,229 miles away.

Set the Dials to “Thrill Me”

Is it juvenile, at age 43, to babble about your favorite album? Dunno. But that’s what I’m writing about today. I’ve been writing this post off & on for over a year, according to my draft bin.

If you’re lucky, you find that one album by that one band that grabs you by the nethers & never lets go, no matter how much time passes. Enter the Afghan Whigs’ “Black Love” in the spring of 1996. This muttering of mine is not a song by song critique of the album, as many of them have been done beautifully, such as this one, but how this album has been a constant in my life since the first listening.

He brought the CD over to my apartment & popped it into the player. “I think you’ll really like this”, he said. In the previous months, he had given me a lot of new music that I loved: Massive Attack, Tricky, Everclear & Pavement to name a few, so I paid attention. And from the first notes of “Crime Scene Part One”, I was enraptured by the storytelling, by the music, by the alternating howling & crooning of singer Greg Dulli.  At age 23, I believed I had a thorough knowledge of deception, betrayal & lust — the backbone of Black Love. But that’s the folly of youth. I never did. It rears back & knocks me over repeatedly. At least I’ve had a soundtrack to my poor decisions for 20 years.

Through the burgeoning & failing of relationships of the romantic kind, Black Love has been the default as I either celebrate the excitement of new entanglements or the devastation in which I’ve found myself embroiled. But even Dulli finds temporary redemption on Black Love & while “hope” may be too strong a word, resilience may be the key. Despite the indiscretions, the fabrications, and suffering the consequences of my actions, Black Love remains mirror of my confessions, and my penance.

This year, Black Love turns 20. I’ve found myself listening it almost daily as I navigate emotionally choppy waters once again. It never fails me. That’s the beautiful thing about a favorite album, story, piece of artwork. While it’s a snapshot of an era initially, it can take on new life as you gain experiences. It’s always worth revisiting to see if it sticks. It’s not the same album to me at 43 as it was at 23.

As so many fans have said previously, “thank you, Gentlemen”. Thank you for providing me with a lifeline when I often couldn’t/can’t get it together alone. I can always press “play”.


involuntary crab-slaughter

In the late 90s, I lived in central Pennsylvania, but returned to the shore frequently to visit family & friends.

During one such visit in mid May, while spending the afternoon walking on the beach with my longtime best friend (now husband), I spied a sand crab (also called “mole crabs”) digging around the water’s edge. I have always loved sand crabs & would spend hours “playing” with them as a youngster, building them sand castles from which to reign. But they always escaped my civil engineering attempts, as crabs do.

So I scooped up a handful of sand that contained my crabby little friend & terrorized played with him for a few minutes, rolling him over in my palms with glee, telling Chris about my childhood castle construction. The air was balmy with a cool breeze and because early in the season, the beach sparsely populated. It was a truly a perfect day.

Chris & I talked about what we should do with the remainder of our afternoon & I decided to set my crab friend free. But instead of setting him gently down at the water’s edge where I’d found him, thereby calmly restoring his world, I launched him into the air towards the water with a cry of “be free, little buddy!”

And a seagull swooped down and ate him, mid-launch.

I stood there stunned, like a jackass, while Chris fell to his knees laughing at the perfect serendipitous moment. “It’s the circle of life”, he cried, clutching his stomach. We laughed our way to the nearest bar, toasting our now-digesting crab with afternoon beers.

This moment in time sums up my general day to day life.  I often react with my first impulse without clearly thinking things through and despite my noblest intentions, it is usually the wrong action. No doubt it will be my legacy: Good Intention, Poor Execution.

Shoot the Left Ramp

In the summer of 1993, I practically OWNED the pinball game, Creature of the Black Lagoon, which was installed at the “little arcade” in my hometown of Cape May.

From 10-5, I’d be knee deep in Hello Kitty wares at my “main job” , and from 6-12  at my night job of dipping ice cream at an ice cream shack on the main drag. In the time between I could either return to my really crappy, but really huge apartment over a bakery on the pedestrian mall or I could hit the arcade. I had always been a bit of an arcade rat growing up, so I often chose the latter.

I ate a lot of peanut butter & banana sandwiches that summer, which I attribute to what became Pinball Savant Season. I’d play every second I could between jobs, fuming if someone else was on the machine. I’d grudging take another, and in my mind, lesser, machine, looking at my watch, trying to discern how many games I could fit in before I started portioning out soft serve WITH JIMMIES*.

When the summer ended, I moved to New Orleans with a guy I’d met  at the ice cream shack, strangely enough. But when I returned  next season, Creature From the Black Lagoon was gone. I was heartbroken.

The next summer saw me back in Hell Kitty, but instead of ice cream, I sold harem pants & Grateful Dead t-shirts at the hippie shop on the beach front in the evenings. Across from the “big arcade”. Where I met & fell in love with the “Star Trek: Next Generation” pinball machine. Oh Picard, you made my flippers twitch.

Up until recently, I hadn’t played much pinball or even given it a thought. Chris & I will seek out a machine if we’re up on the boardwalk, but I haven’t felt the burning desire to play. And then Chris discovered the Pinball Arcade download for the gaming system, which had all of our old favorites.

For the past week, in my free time (of which there’s very little), I’ve been playing. And holy cow it has been FUN. While I like my job and am excited about the volunteering I’ve been doing at my local animal shelter, and have been steadily selling those weird magnets I make, I feel like I haven’t been having much fun.

I can’t play for long stretches anymore, which is probably a good thing. My eyes start to tear & burn after about 15 minutes, and my hands & fingers don’t have the sustainable “flipper power” (or button mashing), but it is FUN. For 20 minutes at a clip.

Because of course I’ll still play, with burning, itchy eyes if I’ve got a good table going. Of course I will.

*sprinkles, jimmies. same same.

Three Nanoseconds

When I first met Doug Letterman, it was my first day of junior high, 7th grade.  I don’t remember much, except he didn’t look like other teachers, with his hippie beard & baggy pants.

What I do remember, however, an algebra lesson early  in the year. Something about time & math. He crossed the room & flicked off the lights. A roomful of 12 years olds sat in semidarkness for a moment or two & he flicked them on again.

“Three nanoseconds”, he intoned. “It took three nanoseconds for the light to reach your eyes.”

Apparently it was the only thing I remembered, and I received a “D” for my efforts, which were poor.

Several years later, in my senior year, I was flailing  in my Algebra/Geometry/Trig class, and I turned to him for help. He’d moved to the high school a few years prior, and we’d struck up a pleasant, somewhat snarky, friendship.  He agreed to tutor me, get me over the Math Block. He still had that hippie beard & baggy pants, and I ribbed him about this one shirt he wore often, one I’d remembered from 7th grade. It had once been a black & white plaid, but had faded to a weird grey-green, threadbare. Every time he wore it, I made a smartass comment which he tolerated.

The day before I graduated (with a B in that math class), he gave me that shirt. I wore it for years, until it disappeared into the ether.

When I returned to Cape May after 10 years & started working at the shop, I was shocked & amazed & delighted to discover that the cool recycled metal fish we sold were his works. Whenever he popped in the store, it was always fun banter & laughter. Still, with the hippie beard & baggy pants, now with tales of VW Buses, retirement.

Watching him decline these past few years as he battled ALS made me acutely aware of time. I asked him questions about his life: about his time serving in Vietnam (for which he was a proud Veteran), about his creativity, about his life in general, about his thoughts on Game of Thrones. I wanted to know more about the man behind the beard & pants. I’m very lucky to have gleaned a few insights to a man I came to admire so much.

About two years ago, I asked him about the Nanoseconds Lesson. He chuckled & shifted in his wheelchair. “Well”, he said, “it would all depend upon the dimensions of the room. It’s funny you remember that”.

Three nanoseconds. The time it takes light to reach my eyes in the 7th grade math class, the time it takes to strike a friendship, the time it takes to let go.


If you’d like to do something cool, please donate to Doug’s Walk to Defeat ALS page.

If Not For You

He had the uncanny ability to find that thing, that spark that made us tick & extract it. Most of the time we didn’t even know that such a spark existed, that we were harboring a gift, a talent, a light that could change us.  I can hear him from the peanut gallery, bellowing as he crossed the aisles, “You can DO this Barbara! TAKE THE RISK!”.

Take the risk. Famous words of Paul Mathis.

While he gave us R. Buckminster Fuller & Hunter S. Thompson, Aristophanes & Wagner (and Wagner’s daughter Friedelind by default), Joseph Campbell and his Power of Myth, the Song of Roland & the Who’s “Tommy”, he gave us gifts much more impressive — belief in ourselves & each other. He taught us to trust ourselves, our talents and maybe even our dreams. Even 20+ years after leaving his classroom & theater, he encouraged me to constantly take risks with my skills.

My FB timeline is awash with other former students feeling the same grief upon learning of his death. As my friend Aimee said “I am but one in a chorus“. While incredibly sad, I’m also incredibly hopeful. My friend Jimmy sent me message that reads in part, “We have known so many great and interesting people. People that it is worth being a part of their legacy. What people like Paul leave behind are people like us!!! And THAT my friend, is FUCKING AWESOME!!!” And Jimmy is right.

We are all part of Paul Mathis’ legacy. Every kid who passed through his doors in one way, shape or form. Knowing that one man can affect & shape so many lives in such positive ways gives me hope. And I can hear him in the peanut gallery bellowing “YES YES YES!” I bet you can as well.

Paul James Mathis October 30, 1951- June 17, 2013

in his natural element
in his natural element

photo used with permission from Terri Wolak-Cannell


I am my father’s daughter.

When I was a kid, my dad was everything to me. Tall & imposing, a police officer in a crime-ridden city, he was the person I equally loved & feared most in the world. Quick to laugh & equally quick to anger, I walked on eggshells, not knowing which face he’d show at any moment.

Along with his physical appearance & wit, I inherited his temperament. The stubbornness, the sulking, the shrug, the volatile constitution that I’ve worked hard to subdue over the years.

Around age 10, I started mimicking my dad, trying to anticipate his moves to mirror them, making a pack of cigarettes with red tips to complete the routine. I became quite adept at this game which he seemed to enjoy. Making my father laugh was a high priority. And the man could laugh, loud & red faced, sputtering for air.

We are estranged, my father & I. This is not new. We’ve been doing this weird foxtrot for over twenty five years. It is confusing & unsatisfying. Perhaps we’re too similar to make a relationship viable.  Perhaps time, distance, hurt feelings & miscommunications have rendered our father/daughter relationship irreparable. Perhaps we’re too tired or suspicious, only having had short periods of time that we’ve gotten along well, never seeming to get it right.

I no longer mimic my father’s behaviors. They’ve become ingrained in me. From the bark of his laugh to the way I flick my cigarettes, from the way my face flushes red when I’m angry or embarrassed to the way I pick at my teeth with cellophane.

I am my father’s daughter, which is a blessing & a curse.

Waiting on Sandy

Patience is not my strong suit.  And what we’re doing right now is playing a game of “hurry up & wait” with the Storm of Sandy.  A Hybrid! Frankenstorm.  Insert your own hashtag here.  We’ve spent the past few days gathering supplies, and I’m 99% sure we’ve got everything we could possibly need to ride out this thing.  Batteries, bottled water in jugs, water stored in plastic containers, plenty of non perishable food (i.e. a trip to Big Lots the other day & hitting the cereal aisle HARD, coffee.  DO NOT BE ALARMED! Our stove is gas, so we can ALWAYS MAKE COFFEE.  And heat up food.

This morning I went out around 7, walking the 5 blocks to the beach.  At our part of the island, it’s only about 6 blocks wide, from bay to ocean.  And flat.  Very flat.  But I digress.  Look! I’ve even given you a map of Cape May County, the very end of NJ for a frame of reference.  I’m a giver.

I can see the back bay from my house!

So as we tracked Sandy starting last week, we tried to keep a lid on our Hurricane Panic.  Last time, Irene, sent us evacuating to my MIL’s, who had evacuated up north.  We spent three days with live chickens in the kitchen.  During our wedding anniversary.  It was the year of Gov Christie’s impassioned “better put an index card in you shoe so that we can identify you” brouhaha.

This time, we decided to hunker down & stay on the island.  We’re not stupid people.  Between us, we have the common sense of one really level headed individual.  We also have 5 cats, and transporting them wouldn’t be a pleasure cruise no matter where we went.  Plus, the whole eastern seaboard is going to get hit with this thing, so where to go, really?

It’s lightly raining now, at 241pm.

But like I said previously (i’m digressing ALL OVER THE PLACE), I went out this morning, just after 7, and took a walk down to the beach.  It was windy as I expected, the streets empty except for a larger than normal police presence.  Took some photos.  This is the Crocus Rd Beach in Wildwood Crest, NJ.

shot some video.  i know why the Jim Cantore sings.  I mean, yells.  Cause you can’t hear a DAMN THING over all that wind.  so the mumbling you hear is just me mumbling about how high the water level is (high tide plus coming storm) & bitching about getting sandblasted.
By 8am, the back bay was already starting to come over the barrier, which isn’t much.  Because hey, back bay.  By 1030ish, roads on the west side of the island were already blocked off.  I haven’t been outside recently.  The birds are chirping for the moment, and it’s just another rainy, fall day.  For right now anyway.

Thanks to everyone who has contacted me via FB or Twitter or text or however to check on us & see if we’re going to be okay.  We will.  I’ll be updating via Twitter most of the time, until the power cuts out & my phone runs out of juice.  With any luck, I’ll be able to take some good photos & put ’em up on Instagram.

Until next time.  And by next time, I mean in a day or two.  Good luck to all my East Coast friends, cohorts, loves & rabble rousers.  We’ve got some X-files marathon-ing to do before this thing hits.