Air Supply

Oh, Gentle Penguin! Road trips are sometimes when I find my best inspiration.

This weekend, my youngest daughter and I made the hour-and-change drive to watch our favorite MLS soccer team play and had a great conversation. We talked about things we’re discovering as spring slowly shifts our habits. We talked about our meal plan for the week. We talked about soccer. And Russian politics.

At the game, we huddled and yelled, creating new words to express our excitement and frustration. Our team lost, but we enjoyed the game nonetheless.

Then it was back in the car for (warmth and) the hour-and-change drive home. Meg asked if instead of talking, could we just put music on? Sure! As long as it was my music.

She thought about it for a minute, obviously weighing her options carefully, then agreed.

As if by the hand of the Fates, the first song to bubble out of the musical roulette was one of my favorite Air Supply songs. (Yes, “favorite” and “Air Supply” in the same sentence.)

“What is this?” emphasizing “this,” Meg asked with a look on her face that may have been delight at hearing new music or dread that she had made the wrong decision. It was getting dark in the car, and I was driving, so it was a little difficult to tell.

“You’ve heard this before,” I told her quite certain Air Supply has been played many times…in the car, during dinner or just around the house when I’m in a good mood.

She turned to look at me. I was pretty sure then she wasn’t delighted to be exposed to this new music. But I only laughed.

“Air Supply used to be my favorite band—probably when I was just a little younger than you,” I told her, obviously hoping that would make them more interesting. “I used to roller skate in the basement to their albums—and Barry Manilow’s—and sing into my hairbrush like a microphone, Of course, I was always Russell.”

That is the exact moment inspiration hit me.

I gasped sharply, then squealed with excitement. “WE could be Air Supply!!!”

My daughter didn’t even blink, but her look grew less like dread and perhaps a bit more skeptical…or fearful. She even raised an eyebrow.

“I could sing all of Russell’s parts and you could be Graham,” I continued on eagerly. “You’ll have to learn to play the guitar…or I could and you can be the finger symbols. I can teach you the words; I know them by heart. I’m pretty sure Russell handles all the vocal harmonies, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

I glanced over at her again. She hadn’t moved. She also hadn’t objected yet, so I pressed ahead.

“You know, we even kind of look like Air Supply,” I noted getting even more excited.

By now my imagination had not only conjured up this very blog about how Meg and I bonded over an iconic band of my childhood, but my imagination had granted us a prestigious award for saving music from hip-hop droning. My imagination granted us loads of celebrity fans, including Jimmy Kimmel who invited us on his show. He then asked us to pretty please sing one of our favorite Air Supply songs. Demurely, we agreed.

I decide I would have to learn guitar and Meg would chime in perfectly in time with the finger cymbals. She’d launch into “Lost in Love.” I’d wink at her encouragingly. Then I would join her as we sang back and forth, me filling in the harmonies.

Of course, that tricky Jimmy Kimmel would have lined up the real Graham and Russell to surprise us so that somewhere in the middle of the song (probably the musical interlude) the four of us would smile and embrace, then sing together to a standing ovation from the audience.

Air Supply-like songs would become popular again; I wouldn’t have to worry about whether my clients paid their bills on time, or whether my printer was about to run out of ink, or whether my daughters would ever fall in love…with real music. Perhaps Meg and I would win a Grammy or an Emmy for the performance; world peace would finally result (because everyone would agree it was a fantastic song), and both my daughters would FINALLY think I’m cool!

My imagination is better than a fairy godmother!!!!!

I was so wrapped up in my daydream that I’d forgotten my daughter hadn’t answered me yet. I glanced over again. She was staring straight ahead smiling and nodding her head in time with the music.

I could feel the dream starting to percolate into reality. I felt a tingle of excitement and fought back the tears brought on by verklemptsia.

“This is your part,” I told her. “I’ll feed you the lines.”

I told her the words. Silence. I backed the song up and noticed that her head continued to bob to the musical beat. That was strange—the lead in was much slower than the song.

“Okay, here we go,” I said again and gave her the first stanza. Silence.

“Hey,” I said a little irritatedly. She didn’t budge. I punched her arm lightly. “Are you ready now?”

She pulled an earbud out of her ear and looked over at me, “I’m sorry, did you say something?”



As she smiled fake-innocently at me and put her ear bud in, I burst the bubble of my Air Supply fairy tale.

I still think we look like them though. Maybe tomorrow after I show her the picture…

Tea leaves

One of my favorite things about how long winter drags on is its ability to help me spring clean my head, my heart and my soul as I soak up as much hot tea as I can. For with seemingly unending gray, cold days strung out in our forecast, I found myself ditching the dog walks and snuggling under a blanket or five with yet another mug of hot tea—English or Irish breakfast, lady gray, Darjeeling, blackberry sage, jasmine…

And when that wasn’t enough, and I finally felt as cold and gray as the weather, my old sorrows emerged to keep me company…loneliness, exhaustion, envy and captivity. Boy, oh boy do they like to party in the last drawn out days of winter! Every year they show up just about now and reek havoc on my worldview. They had just begun pouring the pity into my never-ending cup, when Ollie, my little dog, snuggled up on my lap and put his paw on my arm as if to say, “don’t drink it. Pleeeeeeeeeease.”

I couldn’t help but smile then and snuggle up closer, which apparently offended loneliness who left in a huff.

It was later that day when I dragged myself away to prepare for going out to dinner at a friend’s house. Truthfully, I had been looking forward to this event for quite some time, but exhaustion was sitting heavily on me, and the act of putting on makeup and finding shoes that matched seemed more difficult than it should. Of course, by the time I put on makeup and found my other shoe (the ones with the wool inserts so they feel like slippers, but look great), I also found my missing lucky earring and my favorite sweater. But exhaustion was no where to be found.

I grabbed my bottles of wine and prepared for an authentic Argentinian feast—a cultural meal so exciting and with such great friends, I nearly danced on the table! (Okay, so maybe not nearly…). When they suggested we finish with the traditional tea ritual, I could barely keep the squeal of excitement in the audible range. Envy raced out the door, fleeing from my cup-runneth-over joy.

Gentle Penguin, mate (or Yerba mate) is the national drink of Argentina, and it’s drunk communally with friends and family. A green tea of sorts, the dried mate plant (a relative of the holly plant) is spooned into the bottom of a hollowed out gourd, on top of which the hot water is poured. The host or hostess then drinks the first round through the silver straw to check that the flavor and temperature are appropriate. The hot water is then refilled on the already wet mate and the gourd is passed to the next person who drinks from the same straw until a slurping noise indicates the end of the batch. And on to the next up to ten times or until everyone has had their turn.

With the strength of mate in my body and the romance of the cultural tradition in my soul, I headed home to resume my quest to find my place in the world and rid myself of my final curse, the feeling of captivity.

The best way to do that? Do something completely out of the ordinary.

I opted for a Monday morning road trip, which is how I found myself soon after drinking Albanian tea in a loft above a city not my own. On a weekday, no less!

Albanian tea starts out much like Argentinian tea—an entire plant (sideritis) stuffed in the bottom of a vessel and covered with hot water to steep. However, whereas mate is more of a green tea taste, sideritis is more like chamomile. And while mate gave me strength, sideritis gave me calm.

In Albania, this tea is also called shepherd’s tea because the plant grows freely on the mountainside…where the shepherds and their sheep roam free. I met a shepherd in Albania on a hot day at the beach a few summers ago. Do you remember, Gentle Penguin? and I wondered then who was more free, him or me? I had decided he was, but I wonder now…

Which was all it took to rid me of captivity.

“X” marks the spot

I found a fairy tree yesterday sitting quite conspicuously at the edge of a winding forest trail. There were no socks or scarves tied to its branches asking for help and healing. But perhaps that’s only because it hadn’t yet been recognized as a fairy tree. I wonder how I had missed it before.

Perhaps because nearby a small shallow pond draws the eye with it’s stately cattails and pussy willows, especially as the sun shines through the pine trees to light it, reflecting rays off slivers of water at my feet. A frog sits on an early-spring lily pad eyeing me warily for signs that I mean him harm…or perhaps signs that I’m willing to give him a kiss…or perhaps signs that my dogs have also noticed him. I don’t think my dogs would kiss a frog. But having been single so long, I decide I might consider it…if the frog seemed regal enough. He didn’t wait around for my appraisal, just simply leapt into the water and disappeared.

Perhaps I didn’t notice the fairy tree before because in this part of the forest the birds flit about most remarkably close by. Theo and Ollie think it’s a game and dash this way and that trying to tag them, but only end up tying me into a knot with their leashes. Soon all three of us are bound up like prisoners in our own curiosity. Teetering and tottering and trying to not fall over, I slowly pick my way through the lines until we’re free of one another. At least for the next dozen steps or so.

Perhaps I didn’t notice the fairy tree before because there are other trees that make a person certain magic is afoot. I swear that tree just grabbed my hair! That tree…I think it winked at me. Did that tree just sneeze? Or were those the sounds of the dryads playing ring around the rosy on the leaf-covered ground? They freeze into place as my dogs and I yank about to spot them, but we go over and inspect anyway. Four separate trunks radiate outwards in curved supple poses, just as the nymphs would have been in their spinning. A vine connects the trunks as if they were indeed holding hands. And at the base, several crocus have bloomed. I haven’t seen flowers anywhere else yet in my slowly thawing Ohio. I see Theo lift his leg and panic, squealing as my mind freezes. What do I do? The wind picks up pushing me gently away. I take the hint and run, pulling Theo and Ollie with me. I want no retribution from a pissed on nymph.

Perhaps I didn’t notice the fairy tree because it sits just off the stage of the outdoor amphitheater. Lights, camera, action. Who would be looking at a small bushy tree on the edge of the shadows? But where else does it make sense for a fairy tree to be? The edge of music and color and laughter and drama, where life is most exaggerated and accentuated. Yes, indeed.

Unlike the dryad tree, the dogs want nothing to do with this tree. They stand back as I reach out with my ever-pained finger and touch the branch closest to me. I close my eyes, ask for relief and swear I hear laughter. Maybe I’ve caught them on a bad day. Or maybe they’re still celebrating their winter carnival…or St. Patrick’s Day.  The dogs begin to pull at the leash, urging me away.  Perhaps they’ve spotted another squirrel, or a leprechaun, and are trying to alert me.  But I seem stuck to the spot considering the fairy tree.  What if I can’t find it again?

I glance up and see a large white X in the sky.  I watch it spread slowly over where I’m standing as the sun sinks lower and lower underneath it.  A frog climbs out of the pond and sits on a lily pad, eyeing the sign in the sky too.  He ribbits and the pond stills, mirroring the sky.


I consider it an invitation.  And perhaps, a date.


Did you know life didn’t always revolve around money? It seems impossible, but it’s true. People once made their way without having a daily or weekly need for money. It was normal. It was also a long time ago, I’m afraid.

These days, money seems to be in my face every moment of the day. Kid’s tuition, health care premiums, retirement planning, radio station pledge drives, taxes, Girl Scout cookies… There are moments I look up to see a bird fly by and wonder, flabbergasted, how in the world he makes due without cash.

He won’t tell me. Instead he says, “come outside! Sing and wander with me.”

No, I must prepare and plan… But I soon leave my financial planning questionnaire unfinished and agree to dinner with friends.

There too the conversation turns to money.

I admit, perhaps it’s unfair for me to write about. I’m not destitute by any stretch, nor stretching in the other direction am I well off. I just don’t want to live at the mercy of money. I don’t want to worship at it’s demand, nor play it’s all-consuming game. Does that make me an idealist? Am I dooming myself to misery and disillusion? Or harkening to poverty?

I try to be responsible, but at the end of the day I have my own ideas about making my own self-sufficient way. I call it high culture on a low budget, and dinner with friends is in that portfolio.

Jorge breaks through my reverie. “Back home in Argentina, we hide the money under our mattresses. That is our investment,” he tells me. Another friend still hides his money in the freezer. A third admits to hiding funds under her carpet, then she laughs. “It’s the money I use for dinners like this. The bank can have my expected money, but this money is my investment in me. Friends, food, wine, coffee…and music.”

How interesting that the first thing I was taught as a business owner was to invest back in my business—no expense trumps it, I was told. That meant investing in me. Training, conferences, coffee with thought leaders, webinars, even some travel.

Somehow, and when I don’t know, that idea spilled over into my “real” life. I think of the silly investments I’ve made, the ones I chide myself about when I’m in my most serious money-mindedness moments—the sailing certifications, bartending school, ballroom dance championships, classes in wine making and appreciation, courses in tea mastery.

I live as landlocked as you get. I’m built for battle, not a ballroom. And my wine making is personal. In addition, I’m not planning to serve tea to the Queen anytime soon. Bartending, yes, I’m dabbling, but no serious income has occurred just yet.

I wonder, if I had all that money back, would I feel better? Would I be a better person? What would a better investment look like? The stock market?

Just thinking about it sends me to my favorite used book store to pick up a worn copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Wind’sTale.. That’s an investment also in my portfolio. Perhaps the story will make it’s way to a niece, and she too will see the beauty in saving the Black Stork’s nest. And the investment will have been worth every penny.

“Come outside! Come sing and dance,” sings my blue jay. “Come play with me.”

Will you tell me your secret? Will you show me the way?

I finish paying my bills and slip out the door with the dogs. Before I even reach the corner, a penny, a dime and a nickel cross my path. I take it as a gift from the blue jay….and a sign from the Universe.


Winter Dulldrums

Dear Gentlest Penguin,

The coffee shop is immobile while I sit here wondering what to write. Two minty leather chairs, the plush and overstuffed red velvet chair and the multicolored couch seem to be having a serious if not silent conversation in front of me.

I wonder what they’re saying. Are they discussing the arts season? Or maybe the silver-tongued response of our recently elected mayor to the media’s focus on her wardrobe and hair? Or maybe the state of the coffee industry.

After a while, I feel awkward about intruding on their lack of conversation and shift my focus to the lights. Obviously, I’m looking for inspiration. Instead I try to come up with reasons why this relatively moderate-sized space would have so many different types of lights—canned lights, track lighting, theater-style spot lights, security lights, sconces behind curved painted glass covers, orange speckled glass pendants, naked lights, and a chandelier of gold-rimmed glass in wrought iron swirls. Perhaps it’s some design statement that I don’t understand. Perhaps it was cost savings inspired. But the fact that the theater spotlights are pinpointed at the couch and chairs conversation redirects me to that cushioned circle to which I’m still not privy.

Darn them!

It must be the winter dulldrums; I do indeed feel dull today as we wait for a much anticipated and advertised winter storm—this one consisting of freezing rain and sleet, maybe snow too.

The baristas are on their coffee break. I love the idea of a barista on a coffee break. The barista that always looks so suspicious is sipping water up a bright red straw from her clear plastic cup. She looks bored, but then if I were a barista on my coffee break, I wouldn’t be drinking water. The efficient gentleman is tentatively sipping at something dark and steaming out of a paper mug. I imagine it’s probably straight black and heavily caffeinated, probably a bit bitter and smoky in addition to being scalding.

Mostly, though, I watch the young girl. She seems absurdly hypnotized by her ceramic mug and their contents. While the others carry on a bit of banter, she stands completely quiet staring into her mug as she lifts it to her lips and back again. Without looking away, she reaches beside her on the counter and grabs a biscotti, which she dips in whatever she’s drinking. Then, she tips the last of the liquid into the back of her throat, wipes the inside of the mug with her finger and sighs as she licks them off.

I’m completely hypnotized by her enjoyment of and engagement with her drink, so much so I nearly laugh out loud when she licks her lips and wipes her mouth on her sleeve.

I suddenly wish I was a more decadent drinker. I want whatever she was having.

Instead, I sip my peppermint tea, grateful for the ironic cooling effect of this hot beverage.

You know what else is ironic? Here I am in a coffee shop thinking about turning on the computer app I’ve recently discovered that allows me to pipe in the noise of a coffee shop. It’s supposed to help you be productive by creating background noise. I don’t know if it makes me more productive, but I have noticed it makes me more relaxed as I work towards deadlines and project goals.

Yet, with another storm headed our way, the coffee shop I’m in is relatively quiet. If it wasn’t for the smell of the coffee roasting as a few patrons wander in and out, I wouldn’t be relaxed at all. Fortunately, the smell of the coffee has me bound me to my seat, nostrils flaring, eyelashes fluttering every few minutes as I inhale deeply.

I look up after one such inhale. “Coffee makes you smarter than you actually are,” reads the sign above the door. Gosh, I hope so! Because next time I come here, I’m going to join the cushioned conversation.

Bowl of coffee

My grandmother used to drink her coffee from a cereal bowl in the mornings.  I don’t know why I find that strange now, nearly a dozen years after her death, but I do.  I didn’t find it strange when I was younger and saw her do it.

The coffee pot would be percolating, and when there was enough, she’d pull out a deep round bowl and fill it up nearly two-thirds full.  She added only a little cream and a spoon of sugar then carefully stirred.

When the colors melded to look more like hot chocolate, she’d raise the bowl with two hands to her lips, pucker and blow.  I remember watching her watch the coffee ripple across the top.  There was always one moment when the ripples must have made a pretty pattern because a smile would light her face and she would look suddenly awake.

Then she would close her eyes and noisily slurp the first sip.  Another.  A third.

What I remember most about this ritual was her sigh.  I remember thinking it was a sigh of someone who’d just scratched that itch that had been long annoying her, or found a treasure she’d been looking for, or received a most beautiful gift.

It wouldn’t be long before she was taking longer deeper sips.  She’d set the bowl down but keep her hands wrapped around it as if it were a precious object.  If she did move her hands, it was to find a piece of toast—probably sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar—to dunk in the coffee.

Even as a child I somehow knew this was an important moment in an adult’s life, this coffee ritual.  But I never saw someone enjoy it so fully as my grandmother did.  Perhaps that’s because my grandmother was the only person I ever saw drinking coffee from a bowl.

I understand that the French do it as part of their morning breakfast.  It seems they consider it part of their joie de vivre.  You probably know by now, Gentle Penguin, that I aspire to joie de vivre.  So I decided to try it.  

Not being a big coffee drinker, I asked my mom if she thought it would be okay to drink tea that way.  “Of course!” she said.  “Your grandmother used to drink her afternoon tea that way.  She said a mug made it too easy to be distracted and not focus on the tea.”  

When my teapot whistled, I carefully measured out some loose-leaf English Breakfast tea into my steeping spoon and poured the hot water over top.  Having understood that not any bowl would do, I had selected a deep red bowl that curved up slightly to a wide rim.  On the bottom, the words “Waetersbach Germany” rose in nice fat letters that I often traced while I dried the dishes in the evenings.  I had found it at a church rummage sale and instantly fell in love with it, despite the fact that all my other dining ware were shades of blue.  Perhaps it was my very German heritage.  Regardless, it now seemed the perfect vessel for my experiment.  

bowl of tea

I wrapped my fingers around the sides and pressed my palms together until they also touched the china.  How deliciously warm!  I immediately felt my face muscles loosen from their normal concentrated stance.  Raising the bowl to my lips, I was surprised to find the steam from the bowl tickling my nose and forehead; the heat kissing them both lightly.  I blew.

Ripples ran out to the edges and bounced back just above the center where they collided to make a dimple.  I smiled.

The aroma of the tea beckoned me closer even though the tea was still steaming hot.  I pressed my lower lip on the rim and stretched my upper lip over the tea, tipping the bowl ever so slightly.  When the tea touched my lip, it burned slightly, but I was so close!  I found myself closing my eyes and sucking in the fluid.


The sound caught me off-guard so that I nearly dropped the bowl.  There it was!  The secret of the slurp—a desperate desire for tea despite an untamed temperature.  I couldn’t help laughing.  But I was reluctant to put the bowl down.  The heat from the tea in my bowl was like magic on my hands.  An old sports injury that hasn’t healed despite surgery.  Probably carpel tunnel from all the time I spend typing and playing the piano.  Cramps from the amount of time I spend daily writing with pen in hand.  Not to mention my oncoming old age.  It all melted into pure bliss of the heat.


So I held the bowl until my tea was gone, a process that took more than half an hour.  No National Geographic to distract me.  No Ted Talks.  No internet or e-mail.  Just me, my tea and the 1940′s nightclub station on Pandora.

I imagined my grandmother watching me, shaking her head.  “Why in the world did you wait so long to try it?” she would say.  “We knew important things, you know!  And you young-folk just thought we were eccentric.  Now, you’ll probably ruin it trying to make it fancy!  Keep it simple.  Just  let it be this easy.”

I promise, grandma, I will.

Lost and Found

When did we lose the magic, the truth and the joy?

Perhaps it’s my late winter blues talking, but it was this winter that showed me we are indeed lost. And it was this winter that reminded me how to find it again. For just when I felt my bluest, my most stressed and depressed, the snow began to fall…again.

I looked up and watched the big fat flakes float more slowly than the tears rolled down my face. While my tears splashed unceremoniously on my desk, the snowflakes landed as gracefully as a parachuter on my dark blue porch steps and light blue handrail. Slowly my tears stopped, but the snow continued. Each flake muting my blues until they began to glow in the moon and lamplight of my street.

I went to bed feeling peaceful, probably because I didn’t spend the evening wandering hopelessly through facebook waiting for someone to assure me that I’m not invisible only to feel completely out of place and alone anyway. Still, my dreams reminded me that I am alone as my daytime worries of being a single mom, sole provider and small business owner overwhelmed me.

I awoke early to shovel and dust off my car still haunted by my fears and insecurities. With the dogs fed and let out, I put on my boots and headed out with the shovel.

The cold air smelled like grapefruit refreshing me instantly. I scraped off the porch listening to the reverberation of my shovel strokes on the houses around me. With the first step cleared, I began to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that clearing snow brings with it. By the time I cleared down to the sidewalk, my fingers had warmed up and my muscles were feeling less like rock and more like taffey.

That was when I noticed the bird songs. It sounded like spring. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Sparrows, Starlings, Robins. They were all singing their songs to welcome the sun, which was slowly overtaking the darkness in the sky. If the wind wasn’t so icy on my cheeks, I could almost believe spring was near.

I finished my sidewalk space and started in on the abandoned house space. The Ahiska Turkish gentleman who lives on the other side had already shoveled his sidewalk and was working his way toward me. We met in the middle, smiled and laughed about how many times we started our days like this lately.

I leashed up the dogs and away we went. The snow from last night had covered the footprints and sled tracks in the park behind my house giving us a pristine canvas to start. The snow was silent unlike last week’s snow that crunched satisfyingly with each step, so we moved on stealthily into the thick of the trees.

The tree branches dipped lightly under the weight of the snow, while my heart continued to lift and lighten. I was alone here too, but I felt like I belonged, and somehow I didn’t feel invisible. By the time the dogs and I had settled in for breakfast with a pot of hot tea steeping, I felt whole again.

And all it took was some time outside—because that’s where the truth, the magic and the joy are.


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