Tag Archives: Personal

Lofty ambitions

This is a loft in the Strip District of Pittsburgh:

Window side of loft

I’ve long wanted to live in a place like that. And as of today, I do.

In addition to my lovely house in Butler, I now have a loft apartment dahntahn. It will make it much easier to meet clients in Pittsburgh and south while staying connected with my clients in Butler and north. 

I signed the lease a few weeks ago, but today I got the keys. I’ve been humming the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme all day. No word on whether I can turn the world on with my smile, but I do know that love is all around.

Cause. Effect.

The upper eyelid of my left eye has has been twitching for a few days. I googled to find out why this started suddenly, and whether I need to worry about it. Here’s what I found:

Called myokymia in doctor lingo, these rippling muscle contractions in an eyelid can be triggered by:

  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Eye strain
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dry eyes
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Allergies

OK, one question answered, and now I have a new one: Given the potential causes, why have my eyelids not twitched every day of my adult life?

Lucky pants / unlucky pants

How many pairs of lucky pants does Kessler own?

How many pairs of unlucky pants does Kessler own?

Is this bad?
Most definitely. There are days when a certain something extra is required of us and on those certain something extra days we are accustomed to reaching into the closet and finding (on an extra-special hanger perhaps?) a pair of lucky pants. But not Kessler. Kessler has no lucky pants. I repeat: Kessler has no lucky pants.

How unlucky are these pants?
1 pair of khaki slacks: Very unlucky.
1 pair of navy blue trousers: Very unlucky.
3 pairs of blue denim jeans (baggy, loose, and boot cut, respectively): Moderate to seriously unlucky.
1 pair of black mesh sweatpants: Way unlucky.
1 pair of green corduroys: Mildly unlucky.
1 pair of camouflage pants: Vaguely unlucky.
1 pair of U.S. Navy dress white bell-bottoms: Mondo, off-the-charts unlucky.

Excerpt: Jim Ruland: Kessler Has No Lucky Pants – short story

I was reminded suddenly today of this short story by Jim Ruland. It’s one of my favorite stories of all time, one that jumps up in my mind often — perhaps because luck seems to me a big part of life.

And/or because every day I see a lot of people wearing pants.

I am, in fact, myself currently in the market for new pants. Sparing you the sordid details, I have been down to two pants of pants for some time, and as of Thursday am down to just one, with the other on the way out as well.

But a good pair of pants is hard to find. They are more difficult to fit than skirts are (although less difficult than dresses, which must fit shoulders and waist and hips and bust plus get torso length correct — there’s a reason the wrap dress is a wonder in the world of attire, and the reason is that it’s so adjustable in four of these dimensions). I also am personally equipped with legs that are just a little longer than average yet just a little shorter than what the fashion industry considers “long.” This means I am forced to choose my shoes for heel height to match my pants, and then match top to both, plus maybe a belt. Don’t forget they all have to be suited (ha ha) to the activities I’ll encounter in a day.

Factor in the potential luckiness or unluckiness of my pants themselves, and it’s a wonder I can get dressed at all.

To see and see again: Lillian Hellman and “The Little Foxes”

Pictured standing (left to right) John Shepard, Chris Landis, and Ross Bickell. Seated is Helena Ruoti. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater.

In 1982 I was Lillian Hellman for fifteen minutes.

For 10th grade English class, we were each asked to choose an author and to research and report on that author. We were encouraged to dress like the author, bring visual aids, and generally get into the assignment.

I had read Pentimento that summer, so it took me no more than a moment to choose Lillian Hellman as my author. I already wanted to live her life. She’d written plays and movies, had a love affair with Dashiell Hammett, stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group. [source]

She wasn’t a beautiful woman, yet she was uncompromising and unstoppable, and I wanted to grow up to be her.

In preparing my report I couldn’t find copies of her plays — the school library and Butler Public Library offered limited resources. But I read An Unfinished Woman, her first memoir, and a biography of Hammett that talked about her. I re-read Pentimento, and tried to internalize Hellman’s poetic prose. Here’s the opening of Pentimento:

Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.

I wanted so much to do justice to my subject, I stayed up all night reading and re-reading the night before the report — my first all-nighter. The class was in the afternoon; to stay awake I got a couple of tablets NoDoze from another girl in the dorm. For a prop I borrowed a cigarette from another girl in the class. I was tired, wired, and full of plans and ideals and beautiful language.

At the time I had never heard of Method acting, but I suspect this might have been the first use of the technique in presenting a report in 10th grade English class.

I tottered around the front of the classroom in low-heeled pumps, and a belted beige suit, waving my (unlit) cigarette around and talking. I had no outline, just a page of phrases and quotes that I peered at now and then. Mostly I ranted in a vague attempt at a Southern accent. I told the class about my life with Dash, about my plays and films, about my childhood, and about how to write.

Eventually the fifteen minutes allotted for my report ended. I didn’t have a final statement, so I said “thanks” and sat down. Afterward my friends who smoked told me that I did the smoking part all wrong; I never exhaled. Despite my cigarette misuse I got an A.

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot more about Lillian Hellman. It’s likely that she fabricated the story “Julia” in Pentimento, created it from the private memoirs of another woman. She probably made up or at least embellished much of what she wrote about herself. Dashiell Hammett may have played a bigger role in the writing of her great plays — the memorable characters, the quotable dialogue — than she or he would admit.

It’s strange to look back on my childhood hero and see her in a new light, one that’s not wholly flattering. I think now that she was who she was, struggling through her life as we all do, making what sense of it we can. I still want to be like her, at least a little.

Actually, I would settle for writing one thing as unforgettable as The Little Foxes. The Pittsburgh Public Theatre is running Hellman’s most famous play until December 13.

I saw the show on Press Night (disclaimer: The Public provided me with complimentary tickets.) and thought the three-act play snapped along well. As always, the production is top-notch: stunning set (with a beautiful and very important staircase), lush costumes, perfect lighting, juicy and biting performances. Helena Ruoti plays an elegant, cold, scheming Regina, and I enjoyed Ross Bickell’s take on Ben Hubbard. I fear that Michael McKenzie seemed a little too healthy for Horace Giddens, verging on athletic, but otherwise he was convincing as a dying man trying to do right in a poisoned world. Deidre Madigan is heartbreaking as Birdie Hubbard, fragile and fearful, living on memories.

The play carries an emotional wallop. During the critical third act, I heard people in the theater gasping at all the right points.

Being a tale of a quintessential dysfunctional family, The Little Foxes is either a strange play to see during the holiday season or a perfect one. I recommend it.

[Get more information about The Little Foxes at the Public’s website.]

Looking ahead

To the horizon

I often start resolutions at off times. In the middle of December I started to focus on exercising regularly, eating a healthier diet, and waking up earlier in the mornings.

December is a challenging time to start such a program, what with the fancy foods and strange holiday schedules, and not surprisingly I failed to keep my new commitments. But succeeding is less about being perfect than it is about recovering from setbacks, so I consider it a win that I’ve gotten back on track.

A resolution that tempts me is to play piano every day. I’d also like to write a blog post every day though, and to play with my cats a little each day, and to get back in touch with friends. To draw every day. To clean a bit of my house and garage each day. I can think of another few daily resolutions that appeal to me too.

If I try to do them all, I can’t succeed. More than that, I don’t believe I can even keep picking myself up and trying anew on all of them.

So my real resolution for 2009 is to keep myself from taking on so much. Fewer, better.

I am going to do that blogging every day thing though.

Here’s to a simpler and more wonderful 2009 for us all.

(Photo credit: To the horizon, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.)

Fever dreams

It used to be that, when I had a fever, I would have this dream:

I’m in the family station wagon in Exton, PA (we lived there until I was 5). I’m the only one in the car, which is parked at the end of the driveway of friends of ours, on the opposite side of our block. I don’t remember what their driveway was actually like, but in the dream it slopes away from the road down to the backyard, and a small forested area.

The car starts rolling down the hill to the forested area. My parents and maybe their friends are in the yard, and they’re watching me roll down the hill, but no one is too upset. Also, there are three or four lions in the forest.

The car rolls very slowly, and I’m somehow both in the car and then over with the lions, and also yelling to my parents to stay away from the lions.

This weekend when I had a fever, here’s what I dreamed:

Chris Brogan posted something on his blog about social networks, and I commented on his post and then wrote a guest post. I don’t remember whether I was agreeing or disagreeing with Chris, but I was very concerned that I didn’t have enough time to respond.


I can see several possible conclusions to draw from these contrasting dreams:

  • I used to have much more dramatic fevers.
  • I used to have much more creative dreams.
  • I have been working too much.
  • I should write a guest post on Chris’s blog.

Neighborhood Walk: Butler’s Institute Hill and Main Street

Wonderful neighborhoods

For background on the Neighborhood Walk, check out the Rust Belt Bloggers site. Find a list of others’ walks there too.

I took a walk through my neighborhood today. I timed it to coincide with the Veteran’s Day parade on Main Street, but I ended up taking photos of buildings and bridges instead of the parade. Still, that’s cool.

Looking at others’ walk photos, I realize that I took few pretty pictures and more photos of things that interest me for personal reasons. Again, not a bad thing.

See my pictures and accompanying descriptions in my Neighborhood Walk 2008 photo set on Flickr.

For another perspective on Butler, check out my brother Anthony’s walk (especially because his pictures are much better than mine at showing how pretty Butler can be). Uncle Crappy also took a nice photo of my street.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Neighborhood Walk, and to those who spread the word about it on blogs, Twitters, Facebook, and other sites. Thanks to everyone at the Rust Belt Bloggers and PodCamp Pittsburgh 3 who came up with the concept and fleshed it out.

Let’s do it again next year, shall we? Let’s make it even bigger. And in the meantime, let’s keep reaching out to each other to understand what makes our communities unique, and what they share, so we can continue to make them grand.

(Photo credit: Wonderful neighborhoods, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.)

Mixology Monday: Local Flavor

Blackberry Daisy

The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday is Local Flavor. Our host is Kevin of Save the Drinkers, and while I don’t despise globalization as he does, I echo his affection for local flavors and specialties.

Living here in western Pennsylvania, particularly in summertime, I’m lucky to have delightful, fresh ingredients right at hand. Corn is the big crop here now; if you have any occaision to come through this area in the next few weeks, make a point of stopping at any of the gazillion roadside stands and picking up a few dozen ears. You don’t have to cook them. Just eat them raw. You’ll be spoiled for anything other than extremely fresh corn again, but it will be worth it.

Still, for MxMo purposes I didn’t think corn was the right choice. Interesting, but too complicated. Instead, I thought back to my childhood, and I headed to my parents’ back yard.

Their yard looks like this:


When I was growing up here, we picked blackberries every summer, right at the center point in that photo. In my memory, the summer weather was always ridiculously hot and humid, but for berry picking we bundled up in long sleeves and jeans because the bushes are studded throughout with thorns, and there were poison ivy vines mingled throughout as well.

Still, the effort wasn’t that great, because you could reach out and lift up one single branch. Underneath it you’d find great bunches of blackberries, hanging thick as bunches of grapes, and nearly as big.

Please note that blackberries aren’t the same as raspberries, or even black raspberries. They’re a bit more tart, and they hang onto a bit of stem inside instead of being kind of hollow like a raspberry. They go great with peaches (which we also used to grow at home). The plants grow like weeds (as Stevi points out), but they’re also a bit fickle about whether they’ll give you happy huge berries or sad little ones.

My mother had said there wasn’t a huge crop this year, and on my first pass around I thought she was right.

The thing is, blackberries are sneaky. You look at a bush, and you see maybe just a few berries. But carefully grasp a stalk and pull up, and you may find great globs of juicy goodness.

In all, I came away with about two pints of berries, huge and gorgeous and sweet/tart as blackberries could ever be, and as organic as anyone could ask.

As to what to do with them: I thought back to January and the homemade grenadine I cooked up for that month’s MxMo. I figured blackberries would be an interesting alternative.

But I’d also searched around a bit and spotted this recipe for a syrup of blackberries and rosemary.

So. I made two batches of syrup, one with rosemary and one without. They both took far longer than the listed 20 minutes to cook, but each was delicious and drool-worthy.

I mixed up two Brandy Daisies, trying the blackberry syrup and blackberry-herb syrup each in place of the grenadine. These syrups were not nearly as thick and sugary as my grenadine though. I had to fiddle with ratios to get it right (a task made harder by the ridiculously tart lemons I have).

The rosemary-enhanced syrup turned out to be vastly more interesting than the plain berry syrup — lots of complicated flavor, a little bit of surprise. Honestly, I was blown away by it. I want to put it on everything and eat it by the spoonful.

Then I thought the daisy cocktail recipe with blackberry-herb syrup might work well with gin instead of brandy, so I pulled out a bottle of Plymouth. The result is this, my suggestion for the month:

Blackberry Gin Daisy

2 oz gin
1 oz blackberry-rosemary syrup
.25 to .5 oz lemon juice (depending on tartness and taste)
sprig rosemary and additional berries to garnish

Shake gin, syrup, and lemon juice with ice. Serve in cocktail glass with rosemary and berries.

Even if you don’t have the berries to garnish, put a fresh rosemary sprig in the glass. It’s interesting to look at, and it adds an amazing scent to the drink.

Please check out the other ideas and inspiration in this month’s MxMo — watch Save the Drinkers for the summary post. Cheers!