chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: January 2012

something else I’d forgotten…

car radio1) Palm trees.

2) How, in a really big city, there are so many FM radio stations that the car radio’s Seek button finds non-stop sound all the way across the dial.
car radio


jik by DAKI suppose I was about 5 or 6 when I posed for the portrait. There was a little platform in the corner of my mother’s studio, and on it a chair that I wasn’t allowed to touch except when I was sitting in it. We did quite a few sessions, which blur onto one, and I have no memory of the doll; she might have been a treasure, but she could as easily have been a prop. Holding still was hard, but I was so rarely invited into the studio that, even then, I understood it was the price of admittance.

Finished, the painting hung on the wall for some years and then it disappeared onto one of the art-storage racks my father had built in the basement. But after a while he retrieved it and hung it in the garage on the wall across from his workshop, where it remained as long as they had the house.

As a likeness, the portrait is only modestly successful. But it’s a wonderful painting, with deft control of color and surface. And, in the expression, Dorothy captured something that I indeed recognize as my self.


Night wind spills into the warm, moist morning, waving its tree fingers, pushing a curdled mass of charcoal cloud away from a fuzzy wedge of pale dawn. The tall couple, the 7 a.m. walkers from up the block, stop near the corner to let a car pass. Hooded and zipped into dark warmth against the wind and rain, they are a pair of disembodied oval faces, pausing, turning in unison, angling forward as they step off the curb.

The cloud mass churns. The light expands above it, then shrinks again as a new, more massive cloud consumes my window-square view. The distant trees shudder and even the leafless tree, without sails, bends before the wind. Juniper fronds bob and nod in their dance with the oncoming dawn.

finding words…

found poem by j.i. kleinbergThe studio table is sprinkled with words — pages and paragraphs and phrases torn or scissored from magazines and catalogs… Words that through some accident of layout or perception have drawn my attention… Words extracted from their context, set free to wander the cluttered pages of my imagination…

Fluttering under my breath, under the sigh of a turned magazine page, they drift into little islands, suggest new contexts. Slid around the table under a finger, they try new alliances. Anchored with the tiniest dab of glue, they become quirky poem-collages, wordages, and rally for an untested syntax.

The physical process of this is so different from sitting here at the computer, fingers tapping the keyboard, words flowing onto the illuminated screen. And yet the process is always collage, flipping pages of memory or invention until a scrap snags my interest and I yield myself to the seduction of language.

more wordages here

I gave…

Red Cross posterYesterday I donated blood for the first time in a while. A brief newspaper article was my nudge, explaining that the recent snow and ice had kept donors away from the blood banks and the reserves were depleted.

My father started giving blood when he was in the Army. All the soldiers had to donate; it was part of the job. Returned to civilian life, he kept donating, every other month for most of the rest of his life. He’d come home with that wrap on his arm and that would be that. Blood was uncomplicated in my father’s generation.

But as the World War II soldiers aged and died, the number of donors dropped precipitously and there wasn’t another huge donor population to replace them. By then, blood had become complicated.

I started donating in my 20s. Just walked into the blood bank one day. And kept going back. It doesn’t take long; these days, the questionnaire and the bar-coding of the tubes and bags and vials takes much longer than the few minutes of actual donating. Then you get juice and a cookie and that’s that.

It always makes me feel good, like I’ve done something real — something that not everyone can do. That I’ve given something more personal and valuable than money, and, maybe, for someone, more life-altering.

Queen Anne…

Sixth and CrockettFor a while in the 1970s my studio and residence was a double storefront on top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle. The building also housed a tavern on the corner and a somewhat transient population of residents in the apartments upstairs. The street was narrow, the parking limited and my car acquired more than a few bruises as tavern customers jockeyed their cars by the beer-aided touch method.

The studio was big, raw and cold — two long, skinny side-by-side spaces with an unfinished wall open between them. Both stores had paper-covered windows facing the sidewalk and the front of one of them had a small office where a hardworking gas heater was the single source of heat for the whole space.

I slept in the shallow loft above the office, climbing a 10-foot ladder and crawling to my crocheted foam rubber bed. It was the warmest place, if not exactly the most comfortable; it was too low to sit up, and getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night was never fun. The toilet was at the opposite end of the space, 50 feet back, and it was a long, cold journey down the ladder, across the room, into the tiny WC.

There was no kitchen, but a hot plate and a toaster-oven sufficed. My intentions were also good regarding bathing. I built a raised platform adjacent to the little washroom and found and had moved, at considerable effort, an old claw-foot cast iron bathtub, which sat on the platform and never felt a drop of water. I actually rigged up a hose to fill it, bit couldn’t ever figure out how to drain the damn thing. So I got pretty proficient at bathing in the sink and frequently “bathed out,” taking 25-cent showers at the fishing harbor in Ballard, going to the Y, and showing up at friends’ houses with a towel slung over my shoulder.

In spite of its — and my — limitations, it was a great place. I made a lot of art there and hosted some big parties and have a sort of sweet nostalgia for the place and the people and the carefree innocence that characterized the era.


A bit of trash or recycling has found its way into the cage of the vegetable garden. It snaps and sails between the fences in the gusts, the mylar streamers on the bean poles reflecting its path: up, across, down, up, down. Charcoal clouds, bellies bulging, push north in a fast high wind. Gulls toss and tumble. Only the coffee is smooth on this raucous morning.


Park Street doorThis happened decades ago, one November. I sold most of my stuff and, sort of by accident, decided to move to Santa Fe. My VW packed to the eyebrows, I drove down the West Coast, stopping in campgrounds where, city girl, a little afraid, I’d unroll my sleeping bag right next to the car or under a picnic table.

I drove across the desert, then through Albuquerque and on up to Santa Fe with only one name, a friend of a friend who might put me up for a night. But it was too late to call and by now a determined camper, I continued through town and along the road toward the little tent on the AAA map that indicated a campsite. There wasn’t much to see. There were no signs, no street lights, no other cars, and the road rose slowly into higher elevations, illuminated only by stars and my searching headlights.

After not seeing much of anything for a long time, I realized that what I was seeing, or not seeing, alongside the two-lane road, was a bank of snow taller than the car. That I was driving along a plowed road into the mountains, and that the further I drove, the higher the snow, the colder the air, and the less likely I would find the Welcome sign that announced my arrival at a cozy campground.

Finally, in the middle of nowhere, I turned the VW around and began the descent, feeling defeated and a little scared. I drove back through the center of town and down a long commercial stretch until I found a motel that had individual doorless garages, where I stopped for the night, tucking my car away, certain that my car full of everything that mattered to me would be an irresistible lure to thieves. I actually got up in the middle of the night and went out to check on it. What would I have done if my worst fears had come true?

But I got through that night, and the next, and did stay with the friend at her adobe house, climbing a ladder up to a loft platform above the living room. Eventually I found my ugly little Park Avenue apartment, a converted garage in a messy little cluster of bungalows on the edge of the barrio. I turned it into my nest and for four months walked and wrote and struggled fruitlessly for insight and inspiration. I made a few friends, made a little art, wrote letters and fantasized about love, sex and success.

The winter was mild. One day it snowed out of a clear blue sky. And then it was time to leave. I don’t know if I had been measuring the place as a full-time residence, or whether I was, from the beginning, just passing through, but after about three months I had had enough — I missed the water and saw that the place would not be able to fix the things that were broken in me — and so, after another few weeks, I repacked the car and headed west.

But that’s another story.

my baby rocks!

found poem…

yarn lust…

NW Handspun YarnsShe had a purpose, a list, and entered the yarn store with intent. But before the door clicked shut behind her, she wanted it all: the sample sweaters so appealing, the lush angora scarf a pale celadon blur. The deep bins billowed with softness. She wanted to scoop up armfuls of yarn, throw it into a huge pile and jump in it, burrow through it, cover herself with the delicious extravagance of color. The bulging shelves leaned in to her like streetwalkers, and she yearned for their cushioned embrace.
yarn photo

the entire mourning…

Les at 80
My father at 86 was strong and solid as ever, still carving, still reading, still making toys, and still taking care of my mother as she slipped inexorably into the slow twist of dementia. In spite of her own decline, Dorothy was able to nag him about his ‘little cough,’ which led him to tests of increasing degrees of unpleasantness and then to a horrible diagnosis: lung cancer.

I had accompanied him to these appointments and tests, had heard for myself the words from the doctor’s mouth, had sat with my father as he attempted to shape this into something my mother could grasp. She was appropriately solemn, but it was never clear to me how much she understood of his illness, his treatment or, six months later, his death.

It was a Friday, that day we sat together at their kitchen table, where we and they had shared so many thousands of meals. On Saturday, my friend would be married in a lavish hotel ceremony and I was to be a member of the bridal party. The wedding was 120 miles away, accompanied by various pre- and post- parties, an overnight in a motel and the drive to and from.

My father insisted that I must go. We talked about it. There really was nothing I could do for them, he said. They had to absorb this new information and we would begin the next phase together on Monday. His only request was that I refrain, for the moment, from telling anyone. I must go.

So I went. I wanted to go, to be there for my friend, but I was entirely unprepared for the tsunami of grief that struck me the moment I left my parents’ house. Packing for the trip, driving, sitting alone in the bleak motel room, I wept uncontrollably. Whatever might happen, whatever treatments or reprieves might be in store, my heart was not filled with hope. Without knowing, I knew.

Bleary, smiling tight-jawed and silent, I went to the parties and stood up for my friend in my unflattering dark blue dress and dyed-to-match shoes. My aunt and uncle — whom I dearly loved, who did not know this awful news about their favorite cousin — were there, but I could not talk with them. I knew that if my uncle wrapped me in his fierce hug I would lose my resolve. I tried not to look anyone in the eye, sat for a long time in the restroom, then in a quiet corner of the hotel’s garden. As soon as I could, I escaped and began the tearful drive home.

My father’s daughter, I had believed in stoicism. Now, whatever was in store, I would need to be strong, present, supportive.

Unfair as it was to the bride, it was a necessary weekend of grief. Until long after my father was gone, and even for some time after my mother died, six years later, I thought of that weekend as “the entire mourning” for my father. But of course I was wrong about that.

I never asked to see photos of the wedding.

20 degrees…

2012-01-18 coastal radarI hear a thump on the patio window where nothing should be thumping and discover a chickadee, flapping desperately around the enclosed space. It probably sought a moment’s respite in the narrow slot on top of the swinging door into the back yard, then turned left instead of right. I open the big door; the bird flits away.

It’s not snowing, just blowing. White gusts from the northeast sweep up billows of the night’s powdery snow. Rhododendrons and daphne leaves clutch tight and dark, a junco hops in the plum tree. In this mild, benign place of rain and green, islands and Salish Sea, this is our hurricane, our flood. It rivets us, like the crashed cruise ship in Italy, and we become sudden fans of weather, snow, historic records, predictions. We discuss microclimates. We quote Cliff Mass. We close early, cancel meetings. We worry about the people who live outdoors, about our friends with travel plans. We worry about frozen pipes. We eye the wood pile, wonder about the etiquette of shoveling the sidewalk, look more frequently than usual out the window.

We forget, for the moment, the enormous swaths of the planet that live with this and worse for six months of the year. Places where 20 degrees is balmy.

We are dazzled by the spotlight of headlines shining on us, by the concerned calls and e-mails, by the gorgeous snow-globe photos populating Facebook.

Then we check the thermostat, have another slurp of coffee and get down to the day’s work.
coastal radar image


deer prints in snowWhen I went outside this morning to see whether, by some miracle, the newspaper had arrived earlier than usual, I discovered that a visitor had come and gone. After most of the night’s snow had fallen, along the front of the house, up to the front door, then away, down the path to the sidewalk. One visitor. Small hooves. No note.


cinder blocks in the snowOvernight, a little snow added to what was left of yesterday’s and this morning everything looks pretty, sugared, frosted. The holiday and snow conspire to discourage all but urgent car travel, and the urban sledders, snowshoers and cross-country skiers have the street mostly to themselves.

The snow is coming down, confused by a light breeze. Near the house, the flakes seem almost to hit the window, then turn and lift, hover and finally land.

A flock of tiny birds, perhaps 30 of them, flutters into the plum tree to peck at the snowless undersides of the branches, each little bird hanging, hopping, pecking upside-down until someone gives the signal and they dart away to their next snack, a scatter of silhouettes against the pale gray sky.

the third Sunday in January…

the morning after…

The rain, an eyelash flutter against the skylight, gives no hint of the night’s deluge — the banks breached, the roofs collapsed, the roots undermined, the basements flooded, the roads submerged, the hillsides slipped. Just the soggy steel-gray wash of day, a note of exhaustion in the weighted slump of the juniper fronds.

Or maybe that’s in me: a small cloud gathered behind my forehead, sleepy, rain-soaked, dulled, leaning toward the invisible sun’s ray, the intangible freshening breeze, the inaudible murmur of wavelets over bare toes.

To sweep the lingering cloud from the damp canyon of morning: brew coffee, stir in words.

packing heat…

illustration - goose down loftOkay, I confess: I didn’t make my bed for more than three hours after I got out of it this morning. But when I finally got around to that homely chore, it was still warm under the covers, the down comforter holding body heat to shield the sheets against the cooler bedroom air, against the frost that crusts the garden just outside.

operator error…

reading in bedNobody’s fault but my own, yet sometimes I forget to do the simplest things. I forget to put on music and dance around the living room like a crazy person. I forget to sit up in bed and read. I forget to call people I love. These are things that make me feel good, they’re the lottery I can win every day. And yet there’s always the tsunami of busy-ness, little tasks, work, excuses, that crowd into my thoughts and make me forget.

Reading before sleep is a lifelong habit. Yet, for months I’ve been reading only as much as I could read lying down — seldom more than five pages, if that, before my lids flap down and the book becomes impossibly heavy. It’s been taking me weeks to read a book instead of days. I’d forgotten this simple act of sitting up, cozy in the cocoon of my down comforter, lost for hours in the book of the moment.

I suppose it doesn’t matter why, only that I’ve managed to elbow aside this act of forgetfulness and rediscover a lost pleasure.

I have to go now. The music is calling…

January garden…

first sign of daffodilsI wander out into the morning chill, distressed to see how little winter work I’ve done in the garden. Apple trees to prune, a tangle of peonies and horseradish to dig, and everywhere the innocent-looking rosettes of new weeds that will too soon send up flower stalks and cast their seeds by the million.

Mt. Baker, peeking over the foothills handsome and white, reports more than 239 inches of snow, but here in the lowlands the ground is saturated, the daffodils are pushing up and one of the plum trees is covered with mustard-seed-size buds.

It’s a tease, of course, and late-season snow or wind may deliver a harsh comeuppance to the flowers tempted into early bloom. But still, in these very short, dark days, the garden seems to say, ‘There’s hope. Spring will come.’

And I’m listening.