Category Archives: le beaute

Birdbrain

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Some kind of a red bird from the Field Museum in Chicago

Something is currently happening to me, apparently much later than it does to normal human beings: I’m suddenly fascinated by birds.

It’s not that I ever held birds in contempt like I did watercolor painting, it’s just that they were part of the background, flitting about in the sky and leaving turds on the windshield. I knew there were a lot of birds in the world and that they were somehow an integral part of the ecosystem, though I could never be bothered to put up a bird feeder, say, or pause for a long, contemplative look at a bluejay.

But recently I’ve been really noticing birds and totally staring at them.

They are tiny dinosaurs. They are quite beautiful. And they can fly. How do they do that?

Do they have internal compasses? Where do they go during thunderstorms? How do they produce so many different sounds?

And what’s up with woodpeckers?

Mind, I still think birds are disease-riddled and the other day when my kids found an interesting feather in the backyard, I made them wear surgical gloves to pick it up. On the other hand, I’m currently reading the memoir of a woman who sets about training a goshawk and I sense the inevitability of a future in which I’m at a bird sanctuary wearing khaki shorts and binoculars and toting a watercolor sketchbook.

Which brings me to the other thing I’m mysteriously drawn to here in middle age: watercolor painting. I used to think it was a wimpy sort of medium. It brought to mind ladies in straw hats, wicker furniture, glasses of iced tea, and grade school. It was timid and flavorless. It was oil painting’s spineless and feeble-minded cousin.

But something about the grace and fluidity of watercolor painting is becoming increasingly attractive. I guess I appreciate subtlety and nuance more than I did in my younger years. And ever since taking a watercolor class while on vacation last week, I see that though it is quite approachable, watercolor is also a difficult and unforgiving medium.

Naturally, I am now impelled to wed my newfound love of birds with my newfound love of watercolor. So far I haven’t had much success, which is okay because according to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s going to take about 10,000 hours to master. In the meantime, I got myself a bird feeder and a second-hand ornithology lab notebook.

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A page from my ornithology notebook

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Fossil from the Field Museum in Chicago

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Who’s That Girl

IMG_4344Recently in the mirror I started noticing something about my face. Mainly that it wasn’t what it used to be, beauty-wise, and specifically that it looked tired.

At first I thought it was simply a matter of staying up too late binge watching Scandal on Netflix, even though it’s turning into musical beds just like my mom always said Falcon Crest did in 1983.

I started making an effort to go to bed earlier and eat more salmon, but still my face looked the same. Eventually it dawned on me that what I was dealing with was less an issue of fatigue and more an issue of this is what I look like now that I’m almost forty-two.

In the next instant I realized that I was just going to keep on looking more and more tired until eventually one day I would die.

The fact of mortality didn’t alarm me nearly as much as the idea of a permanent double chin. It’s one thing to know that you’re going to get older, another entirely to see it manifest on your face.

I don’t really want to look young forever – that would be weird. One day I would like my appearance to belie the wisdom I hope to have gained within, or at least give me free license to shush people loudly.

Still, the realization that time truly marches on is daunting. Not only because we are vain, but because every new wrinkle removes us farther from the age at which we believed that we could do or be anything we wanted.

Despite having written a blog post about it, I’m not actually that depressed about looking older. I mean, I wish I looked better than I do first thing in the morning, around noon, at dinnertime and also right before bed, but I count myself lucky that I don’t have more pressing concerns.

I guess I’m just sort of surprised that it really happens – that one day you literally wake up and the person you see in the mirror does not match up with the person you percieve yourself to be.

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I Saw a UFO

When the children and I returned to our campsite overlooking Lake Raystown in the scenic Pennsylvania foothills, it was already dark and my husband was pacing back and forth.

“Where have you guys been?” he asked me. “I was about to send out an APB.”

“P-Dawg,” I said solemnly as I took a seat by the fire, “I just had a transcendental experience.”

“Did you see a UFO?” my husband dead-panned.

“How did you know? Did you see it, too?”

Here the P-Dawg rolled his eyes. “It was just a wild guess. But go on,” he continued, in what I couldn’t help but notice was a patronizing tone of voice, “Tell me what you saw.”

“Well. You know how sometimes a person will tell you about seeing some kind of weird luminous object in the sky that is definitely not an airplane or a hot air balloon or even a weather satellite?”

“Yes . . .”

“And what you tend to do is smile and nod. Maybe you’ll say something like, ‘Wow! That’s incredible,’ but what you’re really thinking is, ‘This person is a total nut job who probably also plays D&D and goes to medieval re-enactment fairs.”

“Yes . . .”

“Well, I know how those people feel now, the ones who no one believes.”

“Okay.”

“I took the kids for a walk down by the lake and while they were having a blast with the playground all to themselves, I sat down on a nearby rock and watched the sun set between the mountains. It was a gorgeous sunset, all salmon and coral blending into lavender gray within this perfectly balanced frame of water, mountains, and clouds around it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And I felt totally content. The sight of that beautiful sunset completely eradicated those first few not so great days of our vacation, when I had to adjust to living in squalor and taking public showers, and when our reunion with our friends got rained out and when our side storage compartment opened up on the turnpike and we lost some of our stuff.”

“Go on,” said the P-Dawg.

“And just as I was thinking about what a perfect ending that sunset was to our vacation, this ORB OF GOLDEN LIGHT came up over the top of the mountain and started moving towards me.”

“Sounds like Ball Lightning.”

“It was about half the size of a full moon, I’d say. At first I thought it was a hot air balloon or something because the edges seemed like they were burning, but as it came closer I could tell it obviously wasn’t that. It was a glowing ball of fire. And I’ll tell you something else, P-Dawg. I saw it right there in front of me plain as the nose on your face.”

“I bet it was Ball Lightning.”

“It was moving towards me, but I felt no fear. Instead I got up from my rock and started walking toward it. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen in the sky and I just had to find out what it was.”

“Ball Lightning” the P-Dawg said.

“I did not feel as though I was in any danger. It was one of those times when you think, ‘If this is the mothership come to take me home, well then so be it. I stared at it for several minutes and just when it got close enough that I thought I’d finally be able to make out what it was, it suddenly receded into a tiny pinprick and disappeared.”

“Look up ‘Ball Lightning’,” my husband said to me.  “Also, ‘Foo Fighter’,’Saint Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘Will o’ the Wisp’. I hear it happens pretty often when the conditions are right.”

“Have you ever seen it?”

“No.”

“Well. If it’s so common, how come they never mentioned it in my Earth Science class?”

Some of you are probably wondering if the Ball Lightning had a message for me.

It did not. But on that last night of our camping trip, in the tranquil breath between day and night, in front of misty mountains against a canvas of pink light, I felt for a moment as though all was right with the world. It made our whole trip worth it.

And now whenever I walk past the microwave, it starts going automatically and my hair stands on end.

Just kidding.

 

Of course, I didn’t have my phone or camera with me. But the Ball Lightning looked something like this:

 

You can look at some of the more mundane photos from our trip on my Flickr page here. One of the kids deleted most of the photos from my camera, so I have very few pictures from the inside of the camper and the three days we spent in DC.

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I Think Banana Clips Might Be Out of Vogue

I would much rather overpay for a haircut than have to do math in my head. That’s why I subject myself to a “no tipping” salon where everyone wears black and treats the banana clip holding up my bun like a diseased relic.

At this salon, there is always at least one dude wearing makeup and black leather pants and I spend a lot of time getting shuffled from one holding area to another. But I endure it because at thirty-seven years old, I can no longer introduce drastic change into my life.

Because my regular stylist is very busy juggling three clients at once, I spend a lot of time with her assistant. As far as I can tell, Tiffany’s only duty is to wash my hair and keep the conversation flowing, even when I’m faking sleep.

She always asks me if I have a boyfriend and I always have to tell her “no.”

I can tell Tiffany feels sorry for me because I have gray hairs and no boyfriend, so she offers me a free facial and makeup. Which I decline because I don’t like people touching my face and besides, I have to get back to my kids who are puking at home.

Now Tiffany is devastated because I am a single mom with no plans for the evening.

One time she tried to talk with me about the Real Housewives of the Whatever, and I had to break it to her that I don’t watch TV.

“You don’t have a TV?”

“No, I have one. I just hardly ever watch it. I don’t know why.”

I am a lost cause.

Finally, finally, Tiffany gives up.

It’s times like these I miss my old Ukrainian stylist, Nadia. I broke up with her ten years ago and still have to hide when I see her at the mall. But even though she spoke no English, wielded her scissors like a weapon, and gave me the highlights of a skunk, we always spent our time together in amicable silence.

And when you’re thirty-seven with gray hairs, no boyfriend, and puking kids at home, there’s a lot to be said for that.

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