January 24, 2012


One morning last week I picked up my bottle of Olay moisturizer...to brush my teeth.  Fortunately I recognized my mistake before squirting it all over my toothbrush.  I haven't always been so lucky.  I still have vivid memories of my mouthful of Cortaid.  It's surprising the similarity between a tube of travel-sized toothpaste and a tube of my favorite anti-itch cream.  Some of the problem may be absentmindedness, but deteriorating vision is a contributing factor, too.

My aging eyes have now led me to an addictive dependence on magnifying mirrors.  I  don't enjoy looking at enlarged pores and browning age spots from a larger than life perspective, but these days if I want to see the strange eyebrow hairs growing out at right angles to my forehead, or focus on the random ones running amuck on the outer edge of the brow bone I have to have magnification.  Without my magic mirror my efforts to dab on a straight line of the black cake eyeliner ( the expensive kind I bought or rather was talked into by the persuasive young cosmetic saleswoman at Nordstrom before Nora's wedding) would be even less successful.  After a series of tragic dropping accidents (witness photographic evidence to the left) I am seriously considering giving up mirrors and opting for magnifying make-up glasses with rotating lenses like the charming woman in the photo on the right.  I remember mocking the idea of these just a few years ago.  Little did I know.

Sometimes I even have difficulty with my non-magnified reflection.  I have two vivid memories, decades apart, of staring at myself in the mirror without recognition. The first time was in 1977 at Wilkes Bashford, a high end clothing store in San Francisco.  It was a store designed with lots of glass and mirrored display shelves--creating a lot of light and a lot of Maggies.  Each shelf held just one sweater or one shirt, size 0 or 2.  If you were a normal size (or an abnormal size in this store) you had to request it from sales staff who would present it with a flourish after a trip to the back room.  I wasn't much of a boutique shopper, and this place was foreign territory. To be honest I was as intrigued by the other customers as I was by the merchandise.  I was startled to look up and spy a woman who clearly wasn't Wilkes Bashford material. She stood ought for all the wrong reasons.  Very ordinary clothing with a wiry halo of badly-permed hair.  I remember thinking "that woman doesn't belong here." It took a few seconds for it to register that I was looking at myself.

It was what I imagine an out-of-body experience to be like.  I had never seen myself with such complete objectivity, and I didn't like what I saw.  It didn't happen again until a few weeks ago.  No trendy boutique setting this time, but I was having another retail experience.  That's probably not a coincidence as shopping is when I spend the most time critically evaluating my reflective self.  I had gone for a long walk that morning, and after being seduced by the  springtime online offerings at the Lands End website I decided to go shopping.  An outing to Sears doesn't demand too much wardrobe prep, but I did  change into a clean t-shirt before I headed out.  Armed with a pile of pants and t-shirts I went into the dressing room.  As always I reached for the t-shirts first.  I had just pulled my head through the bateau neck of a navy and white striped knit when the stranger arrived.

She looked out at me from the large mirror screwed onto the wall with plastic clips. Her hair was creased in the outline of  a baseball cap, and her pale lips matched the washed out tone of her skin. Deep purple circles ringing the lower lashes of her brown eyes provided the only color on her face. She looked confused and unfocused with her head tilted to the side.  The shock of recognition didn't occur until my hand involuntarily reached up to touch her hair.   Unbelieving, I learned closer, squinting to see more clearly as the wrinkles at the corner of my eyes appeared on her face.  There was definitely something wrong with her. Maybe it was the fluorescent lighting.  Maybe it was the inferior quality of the mirror. Yes. Definitely the mirror's fault.

Not this one, but the one at home.  The one I failed to look in before leaving the house.  Mirror, mirror on the wall. Why didn't you remind me to apply a little mascara, a little swipe of blush and lip gloss--anything to add some life to the face starring back at me?  This time I didn't need a magnifying mirror to see the problem.  Magnification probably would have killed me.

January 17, 2012

January 13, 1982

Thirty years ago last week P and I were in Washington D.C.--house hunting and preparing for a new adventure, our move east from California.  After exploring options in the District of Columbia and its neighboring suburbs, we found a perfect house to rent in Bethesda, MD just a block away from the DC border, and about five blocks away from the Metro stop at Friendship Heights. Over the course of that week we familiarized ourselves with the area, met P's future coworkers and were hosted at a lovely dinner at his new boss's home.  For me the most challenging part of the trip was adjusting to the bitter cold.

On the final night of our stay we had no heat in our hotel room.  We were lying on the bed wearing our coats while wrapped in blankets and watching the NFL playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game was so exciting that we kept throwing off  the blankets and jumping out of bed to cheer for the Niners.  Each time the layer of frigid air hovering about knee-height prompted an abrupt end to cheering and a quick leap back on the bed.  Later that night our sleep was interrupted by the persistent bleating of the hotel's alarm system.  We were assured by the front desk that there was no fire, but in that cold sleepless night we might have welcomed one.

Monday morning, January 13th, we woke up to snow.  I was enchanted.  The icy frosting on the streets and buildings transformed the capital.  As a native Californian my exposure to snow was primarily limited to family ski trips.  It was my first time experiencing "city" snow. Later in the day riding in the taxicab on the way to the airport I wiped away the condensation on the car window and peered through swirls of snowflakes at pedestrians and cars battling the blizzard.  After I lived through 18 years of wintry storms the novelty of snow would wear off, but on that gray afternoon it seemed like nothing more than a beautiful, benign inconvenience.

The Potomac River carves out the western border of the District of Columbia, with a series of bridges crossing over the river to Virginia.  That afternoon our cab traveled across Memorial Bridge to reach National Airport.  The traffic was bumper to bumper, and the heavy snow challenged both visibility and manoeuvrability.  We had plenty of time to make our flight and we remember chatting with the driver about the weather and our impending move.  It wasn't until we left the cab and entered the steamy warmth of the airport that we learned the horrific news.  As we had been inching our way across one bridge, a few miles down the river Air Florida's Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street bridge killing almost everyone on board as well as motorists in cars on the bridge. The plane broke apart in the icy Potomac.

Everyone in the terminal was terrified.  Boarding an airplane is an act of blind faith for me.  I know there are scientific explanations of how flying "works," but I have to confess that I still categorize it as a miracle.  That day the miracle failed.  Within a half hour of the plane crash another tragedy occurred in Washington. Three people died and more were injured in an accident on the Metro.  The two disasters paralyzed the airport and all of Washington DC.

Flights were cancelled, but I'm sure that no one there was eager to consider flying anyway. We couldn't return to our heat-less hotel in the District because of the Metro accident, and in the pre-cell phone era there were long lines of passengers anxious to use the pay phones.  Paul waited his turn and somehow, with the aid of a Yellow Pages ad, found us a place to stay in Virginia near the Metro line.  We stored our big suitcases in a locker at the airport and walked through the snow to Metro.  It was only possible to travel west, away from the epicenter of the dual catastrophes.  When we got off  the subway in Arlington we had a snowy trudge to reach Scotty's Highlander Motel.  I'd never stayed in a place like that before.  Thin walls, thin blankets, low opaque plastic dividers between the bed and the toilet--it was a bargain basement hotel.  That night it was our sanctuary.

There was an Italian restaurant next door that sold us greasy slices of take-out pizza.  The only reading material available was a copy of the National Inquirer.  It was the first and last time I ever read a complete issue (I'll admit to looking at the covers that scream out from the racks at grocery store checkout lines), but that night I was glad for the distraction the tabloid offered.  I remember calling my mom back in California.  When she answered, I told her right away that we were all right.  This tearful announcement was met by bewildered silence.  Thirty years ago news, even catastrophic news, wasn't shared as quickly as it is today.  If you weren't listening to the radio or the TV, you didn't know anything had happened until you opened up the newspaper the next morning. Unless you got a phone call.

I was stunned my mom didn't know. P and I were so caught up in the events of the day--couldn't the airline we were traveling on have made the same poor decision not to activate the anti-icing system one more time--that it seemed impossible that everyone else wasn't aware of them, too.   It felt strange to have my immediate need to reassure her prove unnecessary.  Of course she said all the right things once she understood.  And of course it wasn't about hearing her words, it was hearing her voice.  A bit of home.  A reminder of normal--3,000 miles away. We flew back to Los Angeles the next day.

January 7, 2012

Stamp of Inspiration

Over the course of three decades P and I managed to accumulate a large (some might say excessive) collection of rubber stamps.  The initial impetus for purchasing them was to amuse ourselves and our correspondents with decorative touches on letters, birthday and holiday cards.  This was of course a time when people actually wrote letters. Even ordinary brown paper-wrapped packages became more intriguing when adorned with stamped designs.  I smugly sensed that customers waiting in line with me at the post office were envious of the fancy and fun packages I was mailing compared to their own Plain Jane versions.  As our stamp collection grew I concentrated on making elaborate three-dimensional cards, hand-coloring stamps, embossing with my hot pink heat gun, and stamping with glitter. Eventually my work space diminished, my enthusiasm waned, but I continued to buy rubber stamps.

Prior to our move to Pasadena we made a major commitment to down-sizing.  We gave away, "gifted" and had a massive yard sale.  Throughout this process our rolling cart of 12 drawers crammed with about 200 rubber stamps remained unscathed.  Even though rubber stamps don't translate well to the virtual communication techniques of emails and texting, we couldn't bring ourselves to part with a single one. Deciding to sell a much beloved  table was an easier decision.  When moving day arrived I wrapped the cart shut, rolled it onto the moving truck, and a day later rolled it off into our storage unit. Done deal.

Until now. We recently made another commitment--to divest ourselves of the storage unit.  There is  no physical space for the cart and no legitimate need for all the stamps.  Released from the confines of the cart, the stamps covered the dining room table for a few days while we walked around them, reminisced and thought about their future in our lives.  Nora got first choice. She selected enough sentimental favorites to fill up several plastic bags, and I added two special stamps we'd ordered from the back of Cheerios boxes years ago--imprecise but still recognizable images of two and four-year-old Nora permanently captured in rubber.  A large box of miscellaneous stamps was sent off to a young teacher friend with the hope they might be used by her students.  The table was now half empty. I became more brutal with my assessments.  Stamps were thrown out, and the ones that made the final cut were fit like puzzles into three smaller plastic boxes.

As I packed up the "message" stamps, I noticed a theme and took a picture of ones above.  Originally we purchased them to instill guilt in our friends and family.  A cute (and slightly passive/aggressive) way of saying "hey, I wrote you, now write me back!"  But as I looked at them yesterday I realized they offer a different message now--less admonition and more personal inspiration.  "Please write!...Why haven't you  written?..No feeble excuses or artificial explanations of any kind." I may never use these stamps again, but I won't ignore their directive. 

Another favorite stamp reads "This is not art."  After a long hiatus I'm not striving to create art--I'll settle for creating a habit. Write.

January 2, 2012

I Love a Parade!


Best way to begin the the new year--a parade!  Strolled half a block to Colorado Boulevard this morning and joined the throngs of people lined up to watch the Rose Bowl parade.  We didn't have front row viewing but we also didn't have to sit in the street all night waiting for the parade to begin.  Another perk of our move to Pasadena.


 Lots of bands filled with shining tubas.

On Friday the ladies on the left were standing on very high scaffolding gluing petals on the elephant's (above) head.  Fun to see the before and after.

I still haven't figured out how to make it on to the Rose Queen's Royal float.  I've wanted to be a Rose Princess since I first saw the parade as a little girl.  Apparently there is some sort of an age limit!

January 1, 2012

New Year, New Adventures!

2011 was a year of adventures, but not, alas, a year of blogging.  Hope to change that in 2012.   In  April P and I took a wild leap, resigned from our jobs and moved to Pasadena.  The drive from Goleta south to Pasadena is only about two hours down Highway 101, but for us, life here is a world apart.

We sold a 4 bedroom home with a garage, and downsized to a 2 bedroom condominium with a small storage unit.  Life in an urban area has been an adventure, complete with its own soundtrack of car alarms, late night delivery trucks and early morning street sweepers. We were ill-prepared for some aspects of the move, but eagerly embraced the positives--we walk everywhere (many days we never drive a car), have access to a beautiful public library, great restaurants, new friends, and all the excitement  that Los Angeles has to offer. 

New Year's resolutions aren't usually my thing, but this year I plan to focus on writing, health, and possibly, employment.  Regardless of how my resolutions pan out,  2012 is guaranteed to be another year of adventure.

July 7, 2010

Crafty Frustrations

Well, Tuesday came and went without burlap dyeing, but I started off this morning with a whistling teakettle to make a giant vat of extra strong tea. I left the sun tea brewing (not sure it can be called sun tea when no sun broke through the gloom, but that was the theory)and started to prepare the burlap. Once I tore off the multiple layers of plastic I began to see the fabric with new eyes. The color was a warmer brown than I thought and I decided to jettison the idea of dyeing the burlap. Big relief, and I think the lawn appreciated the generous tea bath.

I started to print the digital Santa Barbara County lemon labels on the fabric sheets I bought for my ink jet printer. In order to size the images, the labels had to be imported into a word document and then printed. Sounds easy, but this is where the nightmare began. Each of the cotton lawn sheets cost three dollars so I didn't want to make too many mistakes, but my printer kept jamming. I hated wasting all that money, so I decided to try having them printed at Staples. Unfortunately, the finished print was very faded--these sheets only work on ink jets. Coming home, I took my printer apart, washed off all of the rollers, notched the top corners on each sheet and pressed masking tape along the leading edge to weigh it down as it went through the printer. Even with all these precautions the printing only worked 60% of the time. I'll have to invest in two more packages tomorrow.

The fabric labels will be placed on the burlap table runners, a different one for each of the 20 tables. There will be ribbon frames to make it pop on the burlap. I'm going to add a thicker ribbon of a second color in addition to the brown one in the picture.

Starting a different project tomorrow--wedding flags!

July 4, 2010

New and Improved!

When I finally decided it might be time to update my blog I was delighted to find a few new design options. With a point and a click Oh, Margaret! is now sporting a more whimsical look. There were several other templates I liked, but in the end I thought they were just too pink. Oh, Margaret! and pink are simply not compatible.

I'm also sporting a new hat these days. One that seems to be taking over my life--at least for this summer. I suppose I could wear a traditional Mother of the Bride chapeau on September 25th but since my dear daughter won't be getting married in an English garden I don't think any ornamental headdress will be required. Considering I have a spectacularly large head I am thankful to be spared the ordeal of trying to purchase a hat for the special day.

I am learning that even simple weddings are of course not that simple. The creative side of wedding planning is very fun, but the execution of all our simple ideas is turning into a very complicated process. At the moment I am surrounded by tulle, burlap, ribbon and lots of yellow, green and brown fabric strips. I can't quite imagine how all this will magically turn into Nora's perfect wedding, but I foresee a lot of material for future blog posts. I also foresee generous assistance from crafty family and friends!

On Tuesday my challenge will be to dye 20 yards of natural-colored burlap (future table runners for the reception) into a perfect shade of warm camel/khaki/tan. Unfortunately, this is what one must resort to when one waits too long to order the right color of burlap from the online fabric store. I envision this involving a gigantic vat of sun tea and 2.5 yard lengths of burlap. The process worked with the little 4" burlap square I stuffed into a pyrex measuring cup for 20 minutes...I'm keeping my fingers crossed.