Category Archives: Dogs

I Am the Walrus

I’m about a foot shorter and slightly less blubbery, and my tusks have not come in, but my habit of lolling on the couch is pronounced.

walrus face

I could be lying atop a Greenland ice floe. A tooth-walking seahorse (Odonus rosmarus) through and through, cast-footed variety. Basically sedentary. Shellfish savoring. Laughable? Don’t people sort of snicker at walruses?

My main function these days, when I’m resisting the urge to watch past episodes of Orange Is the New Black, is to absorb information. That and try to knit a mohair bandana with a pair of metal toothpicks, willing Oliver not to drag the tiny wound-up ball of pink fluff under the coffeetable.

oliver snout

(Not successful, and I nearly rebroke the bones in my foot retrieving it.)


Walruses show affection.


There’s more where that one came from, walrus fetishists.

Aside from walrus kiss-bombs, I sourced a few more of life’s interesting details today.

1. A California man named Jerry Gretzinger has spent 50 years drawing an enormous map of a world he invented.  Hmnh, you say, don’t people do this every day? Well, maybe brainy 3rd graders do something similar on a sheet of oaktag.  But his is just so much more carefully delineated than others, did I mention 2,000 feet long, and he uses a weird deck of cards he pasted up to determine next steps he will take on the thing. Including which neighborhoods get what he calls “voided,” or just suddenly blasted out of existance.


There is a great mini doc about him, and you might want to bring home some colored pencils when you’re out today. (Note the envy in that: when you’re out today.) For more great stuff on do it yourself cartography (and moving gigantic maps) try Making Maps.

2. I never knew what was in O magazine – lists upon lists of Oprah’s fave books that were going to earn more than my books ever would? But today I checked out the September issue because we got a subscription in error. And it turned out the issue was all about hair. Here is something so inutterably weird I reread it a few times. A timeline of how glamorous hair extensions come to be. It begins with Hindu pilgrims shaving their heads at the temple Tirumala in Tiraputi, India. (I did a little further research. As many as 10,000 pilgrims get their hair shaved by 500 temple barbers every single day.) The hair is fumigated and wrapped in bundles in Bangladore, then shipped by private courier to Rome to be bleached and dyed. Six weeks later it goes to U.S. salons. After 3 to 6 months use the repurposed locks get tossed in the trash. Footnote from the same O: 90 percent of celebrities at the Academy Awards are wearing extensions – everyone except, according to one expert, children and women with pixie cuts. I guess men, too, go unextended. But who knows.

3. A lot of people consider the Hudson to be “my river.” Me too. That’s why I was surprised not to have known before that the actual start of the estuary, the southern terminus that is, is deemed by scientists to occur precisely at Manhattan’s Battery.


I knew it began down there in the Harbor someplace, but everything seemed pretty watery and diffuse to me. Now I realize that you have Hudson River Mile 0 at the Battery, the George Washington Bridge at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee at 28, Bear Mountain at 47, Beacon-Newburgh Bridge at 62, the Mid-Hudson Bridge at 75, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge at 95, the Rip Van Winkle 114, and the Federal Dam at Troy, the head of tidewater, at 153. The tidal section of the Hudson constitutes a bit less than half the total distance – 315 miles – from Lake Tear of the Clouds to the Battery. I learned this scrap and so many other things from the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s weekly easy–to subscribe to e-newsletter, Hudson River Almanac. If you want to know how many hummingbirds appeared in someone’s yard this May, and how that compared with last year’s count, or the story of a kingfisher riding the back of a hawk, or that Atlantic blue crabs are known to rivermen as “Jimmys,”(mature males) “Sooks,” (mature females) and “Sallys (immature females), this is the place for you. I find I want to know these things.


It’s amazing what you’re ignorant of as a walrus.


Filed under Art, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

A Hut of Candy Floss

Magical, feel good potions of the day: a tall iced coffee, a small pain smoother, a delicate skein of candy floss.


There’s a lot you don’t know about crutches before they come into your life. Like what good yarn-winders they make in a pinch.

crutch winders

This silk-angora begs to be knitted into a Barbie evening wrap.

candy floss

I seem to be rendered all thumbs by the work on my toes.

floss knit

Don’t you love it when you come across an actress just casually knitting in the movies?

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s makes a famous attempt, looking fetching while botching her pattern.


Or Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies. She makes knitting snazzy.

Myrna Loy

Sylvia Sidney appears in a fantastic shot on set, needles in hand.

Sylvia Sidney A

That last comes from one of my favorite blogs, One More Stitch, whose author researches and recreates garments of the past.

All these glamour pusses make it look so easy.

When I feel like tossing my needles, I think about entering the knit world another way — through  the example of this guy in France who soaked sweaters in milk and lime, threw them over a frame of branches and covered them with black soap and linseed oil. He padded the inside with earth and, for some reason, horse manure. He lives there now.

Hepburn would probably even look more cool knitting her sweater in this knit hut.

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Filed under Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Film, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature

Day 1-In Which I Learn to Hobble

It was a success, the surgery, though I awoke from the anesthesia blubbering like a baby. It’s normal, said the orthopedic surgeon, come to check on me. A lot of people cry. Then it was hip, hop, on to the wheelchair, on to the crutches, off to my new full-time lair, my living room, my foot on pillows above the couch.


My snouted nursemaid wedged beside me.

ollie nurse

My other nursemaids scurry to my orders. My computer, please! My muffin! My book! Put it close, I’ve got to get an NPR review done this week. Could you please turn that light off? Or on?

I have a good view of Maud’s metallic blue fighter fish, Brussels, making his small way around the bowl.


Somehow, thinking about the immediate future, though I never had much patience for that fish, I now feel kindly toward it. Brussels reminds me of myself in my own little living room bowl. Except I hobble, can’t float at all, when I want to go brush my teeth.

Trying to stretch myself outside this world, adventuring via pictures of the past to the motor adventure taken in 1918 by John Burroughs, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

This brilliant crew took a 12-day car camping trip in Burroughs’ automobile when he was 81.


John Burroughs, less well known today than the others, was ragingly popular by that time in his life. Gil and I used to visit his country retreat, a tiny cabin called Slabsides that stood beside a celery marsh in West Park, New York.


Burroughs’ fans have kept it intact, so you can see it as he did. Being there always made me want to inhabit a cabin, and now  mine is virtually like his.


… I was offered a tract of wild land, barely a mile from home, that contained a secluded nook and a few acres of level, fertile land shut off from the vain and noisy world by a wooded precipitous mountain… and built me a rustic house there, which I call ‘Slabsides’, because its outer walls are covered with slabs. I might have given it a prettier name, but not one more fit, of more in keeping with the mood that brought me thither … Life has a different flavor here. It is reduced to simpler terms; its complex equations all disappear.

Young college women used to travel in hordes by train to Slabsides to pay homage to the great man, a pioneer of nature writing who published some 25 volumes, of which a million and a half volumes were sold during his lifetime.

In 1918, a convoy of eight vehicles accompanying the brainy colleagues toured Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia, stopping to camp on farms, examine old industrial sites, take hikes along rivers, and measure farming implements for fun, documenting as they went.

Some shooting entertained Ford and Firestone.

ford and firestone shooting

At night around the campfire the two industrialists, the naturalist and the inventor wound down by chewing over Shakespeare, Thoreau, chemistry. Don’t you wish you could have been there? In a way, you can, because photos from the trip are stored at Harvard’s Widener Library, with a smaller portfolio at my favorite website, Slate’s The Vault.

Closer to home yet exotic in its own way, the wool I am sending away for to keep my hands busy during this nonambulatory period.

What is mohair, anyway, I wonder, as I fawn over the silk and mohair skein available from the chicest yarn store I know, Purl in Soho, New York City.

It’s from a line called Haiku made by a company called Alchemy. The shade is called Teardrop. Is that not irrisistable?

Alchem's Haiku-Teardrop

The yarn comes not from a sheep but a goat, the Angora, which emigrated from Tibet to Turkey in the 16th century, and it’s one of the oldest textile materials in use. It’s made of keratin, like hair, wool, horns and skin. Mohair is warm in winter, while remaining cool in summer. It is flame resistant, crease resistant, and does not felt. The goats are mainly bred in South Africa now.


And it is of course beautifully luxurious. Makes your fingers sing. Should I choose this color instead? It’s for a slip of an elegant bandana, not the kind you’d wear around a Slabsides campfire. Evening Pink.

Haiku-Evening Pink

If Firestone and Ford and Edison were on their way over to roast weenies, maybe a scarf in this hue would be more refined: Blue Jay Way.

Haiku-Blue Jay Way

So many choices when your leg is up and all you’ve got to do is dream.


Filed under Art, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Portals Into Other Worlds

I’m thinking about how you can visit other times and places on the web, peeking through portals the way you peer through a cutout in the plywood surrounding a construction site. Here are fifteen visits I’ve made lately that I’d recommend.

It was a mistake for Rolling Stone to make a rock star out of a creep.


That doesn’t mean the article that goes with the picture is not good journalism. And don’t we want to know, don’t we have to know, what makes terrorists tick, in order to know how to combat the evil they do? If you don’t feel like patronizing Rolling Stone at the moment to read the piece, if you’re interested in long-form reportage on all kinds of subjects, from a history of the famous indie rock club Maxwell’s to a star 16-year-old pitcher in Japan, go to, which reprints new and classic nonfiction from around the web.


Admit it, you want to know the inside story of the Kindle. What brainiacs came up with this gizmo that might mean the end of books as we know and love them? (I actually have a Kindle Fire and don’t find it hasn’t stifled my desire to read print on paper, just saying.)

It sounds almost banal, but I guarantee that when you hook into The Evolution of Love Songs (1904-2007) you will not be able to quit. I’m waiting for part 2, 2008-2013.

Up my alley, and I hope yours, a view of how the lives of American women changed over the 19th century through the art of the time.  In particular, life on the farm, complete with Winslow Homerian milkmaids.

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) The Milk Maid


There are so many food blogs. I like npr’s the salt.

A view into a different world would include the minds of people who make Lego their personal idiom. They do things like make plastic sushi and other amazing Lego food creations. 

Lego sushi

I’m interested in the alternate lives of feral children, especially since my next novel Savage Girl  describes all the trouble one can get into in Gilded Age New York. Like how do you participate in a refined dinner party when you’re accustomed to tearing meat apart with your fingers? Every now and then a contemporary wild child surfaces with an interesting story. You can read about Marina Chapman, a British housewife who claims she was raised by monkeys in Colombia.

 marina chapman

Want to know about neolithic cooking? The Rambling Epicure tells you, and it starts with “one bucket wild spinach leaves.” The excellent food site gives you a recipe from Jane Le Besque’s cookbook, Un Soufflé de Pollen: Livre de Cuisine et de Peinture. A painter, Le Besque lives in the Pays de Gex in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and this is her “artistic vision” of primitive cuisine.

See how other people connect — passionately — with the past. Reenactors get their due with 36 photos from around the world.


Here, actors and actresses from Iere Theatre Productions play the roles of indentured East Indian laborers and British constabulary police during a reenactment of the first arrival of East Indians to Trinidad and Tobago, on Nelson Island in the Gulf of Paria off the west coast of Trinidad.

It’s not all about Gettsyburg, clearly.

reenactors 2

These children are taking part in a mock military parade at an amusement park in Pyongyang to mark International Children’s Day, in this photo taken on June 1, 2013.

Okay, the squeamish should not tune in to7 Bio-Artists Who Are Transforming the Fabric of Life Itself” at the site io9.


It’s about how some provocative artists today deal with biotechnology. Working with scientists and engineers, these geniuses transform living tissue and even their own bodies into works of art. For example, Brazilian-American “transgenic artist” Eduardo Kac took a rabbit and implanted it with a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) found in jellyfish. When placed under a blue light, the rabbit glows an otherworldly hue.

On the lighter side, see the longest domino chain in the world made of books: 2,131 of them.

 My dog is named a very modern Oliver. He looks exactly like his name.

oliver about to copy has a well-researched piece on ancient pet names, such as dogs called Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy, Jakke, Bo and Terri, and a cat in England named Gyb – the short form of of Gilbert –  or one named Mite, who prowled around Beaulieu Abbey in the 13th century, or Belaud, a grey cat belonging to Joachim du Bellay in the 16th century. Isabella d’Este owned a cat named Martino. I bet nobody died their animals green.

Buzzfeed has 16 noble photos of women writers at work, including a great one of Anne Sexton immersed in her craft.

anne sexton

From, the story of an artist whose work was discovered in the trash 50 years after his death.

Charles Dellschau

This grouchy butcher by trade, an immigrant named Charles Dellschau, had secretly been busy assembling thousands of intricate drawings of flying machines, sewn together in homemade notebooks with shoelaces.

And for anyone who didn’t catch this when it went big on the web, Dustin Hoffman showed us his softer side in reminiscing about Tootsie and what playing a woman meant to him. The interview is a window into the psyche of someone whose brilliant work opened a window into a psyche we were lucky to see.



Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Tuber or Not Tuber

My potatoes are ready to harvest. Knuckling up from under the crumbly soil, red, firm, practically begging to be dug.

potatoes stalks

The tops of the plants have collapsed and faded, letting me know the tubers have reached their point of ripeness.

And I’m on my knees (on my gardening pad, protecting my getting-to-be-arthritic knees) thinking about things that grow under the soil.

potatoes soil

Earthworms, like the one strutting across my gloved fingers, surprised in its wanderings around the potato neighborhood. Gil tells me that earthworms are actually an invasive species and have disrupted the ecology of the forest floor.


I’ve always liked earthworms, admired their digestive capabilities, and wanted them to multiply in my garden. At the same time, being a little squeamish, I’m anxious about coming across them writhing in my path.

Here are potatoes, washed and sliced, for a summer gratin.

potatoes raw

So fresh they slice more like cukes or squash. Moist like just-picked tomatoes.


I’m thinking about anxiety, another thing that, like a potato, grows underground. You can put them aside, the things that worry you, by day. The yet-to-be-paid bills, the yet-to-be-written article, the yet-to-be-published book, the yet-to-be-proofread galleys, the yet-to-be-folded laundry. But roundabout 11pm, lying between the sheets, the air conditioner blotting out all distractions, those anxieties come back for their nightly haunting. Herbal tea, you say? Hot milk? Meds? All you can do is dig yourself out of the dirt by the next day’s sunlight.

Onions swell beneath the dirt. Onions to fry in olive oil for the gratin.

onions raw

Creativity also grows underground. Say I have an idea for a new story. An idea about the way a certain neighborhood looks in a New York of a different age. A thought about a character the other characters call simply the Turk. A whaleboat loaded with cabbages. Ideas percolate under the surface and peep up occasionally. You’d better write them down in a notebook or they’ll descend back down again.

Layer the potatoes in a casserole dish. This gratin is simple. Place the rounds, spoon the onions over and then the shredded gruyere. One, two, three layers. Extra cheese on top (no anxiety about its cost or its cholesterol!).

Give anyone deserving a shred.

oliver cheese

Take a break from proofreading your galleys. Pour a pint of cream over the layers. A pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper.


Crank the oven to 425 degrees. It’s hot in here, isn’t it? The rest of the ten pounds of  potatoes, homely and crumbly, await their cold bath. They’re dug up now, won’t ever go back. Anxiety, creativity, things to bring into the light of day. It’s their turn in the sun.

potatoes basket


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

The Middle of the Donut

There are certain things that make it a good day in the Midwest, in Wausau. A stop at Kreger’s.



Best donuts hands down.



A stop at the farm. Hay for mulching the tomatoes.

hay bale


A big old barn with towering rafters.

barn interior


A big old solemn dog.



A guinea hen chick that needs special care.



The horse with the velvety schnozz, always wanting an apple, wanting an apple, wanting an apple.



That apple will have to wait ’til next year, ma’m. New York is beckoning.

horse eye


Filed under Culture, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature

Rockets Glare

Hastening toward Wisconsin. Can it be a true road trip if you only drive one road? On the other hand, it’s a massive road, Interstate 80. And it’s the glorious Fourth.We begin at the GW bridge.

flagOliver has already finessed the jump from the  cargo hold to the back seat, next to Maud.

oliver back seatGil is principal road man.

gil's armsJohn Lennon’s Dig a Pony plays repeatedly on the console.

Well, you can celebrate anything you want

Yes, you can celebrate anything you want

The land rolls by.

cloud shadow

The trucks roll  by.


I do a road hog

Well, you can penetrate any place you go

Yes, you can penetrate any place you go

I told you so

Rain hits as I drive. Maud sweet talks her beau long distance.

windshield washer

Well, you can radiate everything you are

Yes, you can radiate everything you are

midwest sunset w carEyes drift over my book as the sun sets, superlative driver Maud in the driver’s seat.

I feel the wind blow

Well, you can indicate everything you see

Yes, you can indicate anything you see

Lennon later said he thought the song was garbage. Can you imagine?

dancers bookOn to the Chicago Skyway at Dusk.

chicago skyway


And then, all up the corridor through the great city of Chicago, starting at nine o’clock, splashes of fireworks go up from all the little communities along the way, on every side, red, pink, green, blue and silvery-white, some cascading right over our heads on the highway. Pop! Pop!

Chicago fireworks

All I want is you

Everything has got to be just like you want it to


Fifteen hours, forty minutes, over 1,000 miles. I’d do this again, says Gil. Maud says, Me too.





Filed under Culture, Dogs, Fiction, Music, Photography

The Handsomest Dog in the World

I write frequently about my dog Oliver.


He is loyal. Intelligent. A good eater (lately into ripe strawberries from my garden). Brave. Well, loud and aggressive, anyway, and I think  he’s secretly a bit of a chicken.

We got Oliver as a baby from a dog rescue family that was fostering his ma, a seemingly unadoptable, classic yellow cur. Father: unknown. In a White Plains kitchen squirmed eight chubby balls of fur, attached to eight wagging stumps of tails. It was January. We had run out of time to find adolescent Maud a puppy birthday present. Ollie was it. He might be a beagle, from his coloring. Who knew?


We found everything he did delicious even though he smelled bad and was so snaggletoothed he needed a lot of dental work. His lip was partly cleft. He waddled. Most of all he didn’t play well with others. All he did in obedience class was bark at his classmates. He once found a warren of rabbits and killed them all. His genetic origins, it seemed clear, spanned the basset hound and the pit bull.


Still. Ferocious as he is, he can be the picture of docility. Smiles over the shoes he brings when we come in the door, earning his nickname the Jolly Rancher. He can be mellow, even soulful.




He’s was a flaming redhead for Halloween when he was about a year old.


Clownface, I call him.


Whatever else he is, he’s unique.

And so it is that I became shocked and miffed to see this year’s Ugliest Dog in the World paraded across a stage in California and then making the talk show circuit in New York. The contest has taken place for 25 years, and the Chinese Crested breed, which is hairless, usually triumphs. Not this time.


Walle came from Chico, and they were calling him a cross between a basset hound and a boxer. One judge said that Walle looked like “he’s been Photoshopped with pieces from various dogs and maybe a few other animals.”


Walle didn’t look like any other dog, everyone said, with his pudgy gait, chunky paws, large head, lowrise posture, oversize nose.


Well, you tell me. Is Walle unique? Or did we finally locate one of Oliver’s vanished siblings? More to the point, is the dog who won the laurels ugly?

Because Oliver is beautiful.



Filed under Culture, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature

A Crash, Then Silence

Last fall I created a trail.

path 1

It started at the curve of the Cabin’s driveway and led uphill to a ridge, winding and turning past trees along the way.

path 2

A beautiful mat of bark I’d step across on my way up suggested the drama of a tree’s life cycle. It was as if the bare, dead red pine had shaken the pieces off all at once in a kind of frenzy.

fallen bark

When I brought Oliver for walks in the clearing beyond the ridge, it always stuck me as a threshold to a fairytale world, parklike, denuded of underbrush, just a beautiful blanket of brown leaves amid tall old trees, with some tenacious raspberry canes. Oliver gives chase to deer here, animals invisible to our eyes.

red canes in clearing

Today my access to that fairytale world was denied.

Gil told me that while I was out this morning and he was sitting at his desk, he heard a crash “that went on for five minutes.” It was sequential, he said, an explosion, then a crack, then another explosion.

A tree fell in the forest, and he heard it.

gil uphill

When we went up to investigate – amid swarms of excited mosquitos – we found half a dozen downed trees, all in a tangle.

crashed trees

And all across my path.

Gil’s theory: “the cherry fell on top of the maple. Now the maple’s all bent over, strung like a bow.” I could see the fresh split in its bark.

cracked tree

Oliver was exuberant, racing around, using the fallen limbs as a steeplechase. “The poetical character…lives in gusto,” said Keats. The dog just wouldn’t stand still.

deer chaser

And then, coming home, at the bottom of the hill I find a phenomenon that is the opposite of loud and crashing. A painted turtle had come to lay her eggs, stretching out her strong hind legs and silently clawing up the mud beneath our grass. We saw her as we left for the trail.

All she left was a hole the size of a silver dollar. No white, jellybean eggs.

turtle hole

I wonder if she heard the trees?


Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Writers

The Incomplete Fetch

Gil and I have a conversation about Oliver, who has the entrenched habit of greeting whomever arrives at our front door with a shoe in his mouth.

Oliver fetching


Gil: We used to have a purebred dog who looked like a movie star. Whenever we took her out, her adoring public would gather around to ooh and ahhh. This was before a lot of people had shiba inus.



Me: She was beautiful, but she never brought us any shoes. In fact, everything had to be brought to her.

Gil: Our present beast, in contrast, has issues. Oliver is a mutt, an unlikely combination of a basset hound and a pit bull.



Me: He was a rescue puppy, which excuses some of his defects. Clown-face is the best name we ever had for him.

Gil: He looks stumpy and low to the ground. He has a slight harelip. His breath is atrocious. If his adoring public ever gathered around him, he’d growl and bark at them. Oliver is an example of a creature that is difficult to love.

oliver about to copy

But love him we do, with a passion. I sometimes think this is a gift he gives us, challenging us to love when loving is sometimes not that easy.

Me: The more I see of men, the more I like my dog. So said Pascal. I think that Oliver’s incomplete fetch at the door — incomplete both because you don’t start the action by throwing to him, and because he won’t drop the shoe at your feet — is perfection itself.

ollie shoe out the door


Gil: We have taken to wagering what kind of footwear he will greet us with: a sandal, a boot, a clog. His present-giving never fails to cheer us.

Me: You have to admire the spirit of a dog, no matter show stupid it may see sometimes. Oliver performs the same act over and over again just as eagerly.  Sometimes with a sock, if a shoe’s inconvenient.

Ollie nose sockIf we leave the house for half an hour he brings a shoe. If we then go out for fifteen minutes, when we return he will offer the same prize, dipping his head and smiling through the gift. Devoted, submissive, jiving and shucking.

ollie shoeWhat a good boy am I. An open heart. It’s as if he’s saying, Whatever else I am, I am this flawlessly faithful dog too.

Gil: Is loving more rewarding when it’s difficult? It puts me in mind of a line from a sad poem by John Engels. Precisely to the degree that you have loved something: a house, a woman, a bird, this tree, anything at all, you are punished by time.

Me: We humans should all bring the shoe to the door with the same fervor Oliver does. With the same open heart. What do we get in return? If we’re lucky, the privilege of rolling on our backs in the dewy grass, scratching that perpetual itch.

Oliver rolling




Filed under Culture, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Writers

Emily in the Garden

The heat feels good. All ninety-nine degrees of it.

The pole beans twist themselves around the bamboo supports, under the arcing sun.

pole beans

The pansies on the front porch of the Cabin salute.


Even Oliver likes to move his luxuriating form outdoors, having decided that sun-warmed gravel is a choice nap mat. Along the lines of ancient cultures whose people slept comfortably with their heads on carved blocks of wood or stone.

Oliver gravel prone

All the quiet and heat and a sense of the plants feverishly growing brings to mind the work and life of Emily Dickinson, she who was, according to one scholar, “known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet” during her time. Dickinson conscientiously tended the flower garden at the Homestead in Amherst, Massachusettes, where she spent her whole life, assembling. a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound book which contained 424 pressed flower specimens organized according to the Linnaean system.

Dickinson is usually thought of the way she appears in the iconic photo taken when she was about eighteen.


Recently another portrait materialized in an archive, with the poet on the left and her friend Kate Scott Turner on the right.

Emily Dickinson

She would have been well into her genius years, both in terms of writing and gardening.

The Homestead garden was famous in its time, at least among the neighbors. Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, remembered “carpets of lily-of-the-valley and pansies, platoons of sweetpeas, hyacinths, enough in May to give all the bees of summer dyspepsia. There were ribbons of peony hedges and drifts of daffodils in season, marigolds to distraction—-a butterfly utopia.” Dickinson loved scented exotic flowers, writing that she “could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets.” She liked to send friends bunches of blooms with verses attached, but complained mildly that “they valued the posy more than the poetry.”

Dickinson went everywhere, apparently, with her brown Newfoundland Carlo, a gift from her father in the fall of 1849. “My shaggy ally” she called him in a letter.

A lovely animation gives the perfect flavor of the poem “I started early—took my dog.”

Emily was so mysterious, endlessly elliptical.

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn

Indicative that suns go down;

The notice to the startled grass

That darkness is about to pass.

Less than a dozen of Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published in her lifetime. Among the rest were 40 pieced-together and hand-sewn books she had assembled in the years before her death.

Wild Nights

That’s the fascicle-bound manuscript page for the passionate, rhapsodic poem Wild Nights!:

Wild nights! Wild nights! 
Were I with thee, 
Wild nights should be 
Our luxury!

Futile the winds 
To a heart in port, 
Done with the compass, 
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden! 
Ah! the sea! 
Might I but moor 
To-night in thee!

In her final years Dickinson also wrote on scraps of paper, chocolate wrappers, the margins of books, and even envelopes she received in the mail. A book documenting these envelope poems is due out this coming October, to be titled Gorgeous Nothings. A related appreciation and performance can be enjoyed even before the book is published.



Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Lettuce F*****g Entertain You

Thug politely pledged to test out my biscuit recipe when I contacted him/her/them, that is as soon as the dust settled. (His actual words:  I love biscuits and will try your shit out.) Thug Kitchen has after all experienced a viral explosion since the novel cooking site launched in October. Critics call it profane, and profane blended with strawberries and avocados seems to produce a bit of gastric discomfort. Is this some kind of trick? Are we being had?

I call the combination real.


What is it with men and cooking? Top chefs are almost uniformly male. Backyard barbeque-meisters, natch. Boys learn from their fathers.

Cookout fun 2 copy 2

But those who are not chefs of reality TV or summer parties, the men who man the stove day in, day out, making family meals, making solitary meals, prepping the onions and boiling the rice – still sadly a minority. Even Brooklyn foodies cook less than their wives.

Thug cooks for dogs. Sweet potato jerky treats that Oliver would relish.

dog sweet potato

The press will tell you different, that hordes of men are cooking now. After all, the men of the fourth estate are different, and they write what they know. Men have of course increased their kitchen activity since, say, the 50s and 60s, since women gave them a shove with the spatula and said, Do it. Make me proud in here. A wee bit. (And truth be told, younger men are stepping up. A 25-year study of Gen Xers found that men were making two-thirds of the meals married women were. Not too shabby.)

Some men today deliver.

Gil, for example, makes a mean green chili. Okay, that’s a typical boy preserve. He can also deliver a whole wheat pizza topped by homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, baby spinach, bacon and olives. With aplomb. Delicious, I had three slices yesterday.

Both my brothers have achieved local fame over the years for their culinary expertise. I still remember the roast goose Andy put on the Christmas table a couple of years back, crisp and done to perfection, but he also puts his kindergartener’s dinner on family table every day. Peter assembles a crazy raw kale salad. Don’t know where they got the gene, as the sum total of our father’s skill is a perfect hard-cooked egg.

Thug Kitchen unites macho and grilled-romaine-with-a-touch-of-seasalt as easily as a stroll in some vegan park. Saveur called it the number one food blog around.


“ANYBODY CAN GRILL A FUCKING BURGER OR HOTDOG. Elevate your grilling game with something that simpleminded motherfuckers wouldn’t even consider. Grilling veggies is some classy shit and it only takes a few minutes. I am not talking about some played out portabella burger that tastes like a dirty sponge. Eggplant, artichokes, okra, lettuce: all that shit can be thrown on the grill and are in peak form during the spring and summer. People are guaranteed to come correct next time you invite them over. Raise the fucking bar and grill to impress.”

It doesn’t need to be Oscar Mayer any more.

Thug actually is vegan, if you scroll down the site to take a better look, past the blast of biting admonitory locution. No fathers in man-aprons grilling steaks here. Instead, dishes a lady would love: lavender lemonade: “Calm Your Bitch Ass down like a Boss-Drink Some Fucking Flowers” runs the heading, and the recipe advises, “This is some good shit to make when you are feeling bougie as fuck.” Roasted strawberry and coconut salad inspires this heading: “Eat a Goddamn Salad. Fuck it-Eat Ten Then Brag about it.” But TK told the NY Daily News, “You don’t have to be fancy to give a f— about what you eat.”

Thug Kitchen loves moms.

flowers for mom

Thug appears to be a collective. I got a note framed in the royal we. (They’re going out with a book, as soon as they get a proposal together. A book we ladies can share with the gentlemen in our lives.) If so, they must be having a blast, sucking down their strawberry-grapefruit margaritas and talking trash.

Can I come out to L.A. for dinner? I clean up nice and I bet you do too.


Grapefruit Guacamole – recipe courtesy of Thug Kitchen


5 ripe avocados

2 medium grapefruits or 1 big son of a bitch

¼ cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup chopped red onion

juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)

¼ teaspoon salt

Take the pit out of the avocados and scoop out all the green flesh into a large bowl. Mash it up with fork. I like my guacamole chunky but do what you gotta do. Cut the grapefruit up into segments like you would cut an orange. Remove the peel and cut the segments into pieces about the size of a nickel. Put all the grapefruit into the bowl with the avocado. Add the cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and salt and mix it all up. Taste it and add more shit until you like it. Serve immediately or chill it for a bit. I’m not gonna tell you how to eat guacamole, just follow your fucking heart.


Filed under Cooking, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writers, Writing

About To

Cloudy and damp, good planting weather. And just the right climate for the annual plant sale at Teatown, the nature preserve down the road from the Cabin.


Teatown has 875 miles of trails, a large lake, hemlock forests and laurel groves, a wildflower island and, dear to my heart, a collection of wounded raptors, lost souls that have here been given a safe haven and a purpose: educating visitors about how wonderful they are.

I like the owls, some of them one blinded in one eye, most paired in their environments in a perfect, companionable matched set.


I collected my little starts at the herb table, dill and chamomile. Thought I’d try some eucalyptus. Wished I had to space for the native plants for sale all around.

Then I noticed a stalky bearded iris obviously about to burst.


I realize that they more I go along, the more I like things that are about to

Like the iris. You can just see a fringe of furled purple petal above the green.

Like a novel about to be published.

Rolls about to come out of the oven.

A cardinal about to skitter up into the air.

Oliver about to enter his snoring slumberland.

oliver about to

Water about to boil – test it for salt with one hardy finger.

About to speak at an engagement, that shivery feeling in your stomach.

About to buy something exquisite, but expensive. Then deciding not to.

About to start to knit, a chunky skein and needles in hand.

My 21-year-old Maud about to have the most glorious adventure, working in a school for Teach For America, living in New York City, the whole shebang laid out ahead of her.

maud smiling

Rolls about to come out of the oven.

Water about to boil.

The iris about to pop.


Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Writing

All This and a Hand-Crafted Marshmallow Recipe

The day after. All that’s left of the pig roast are the party tulips and the dogwood stars.

tulips and dogwood

And a drawing by doting 6-year-old Jasper for winsome three-year-old Simone.

Simone picture

Oliver was locked away until the waning hours, when he was let out in all his growly glory, with a  muzzle and a leash, and petted by the braver partygoers. Says something about the loving spirit of this particular gathering.


The love reached its apotheosis in the marshmallows.

I was almost too busy replenishing food on the buffet to have a conversation, let alone to document anything, and the hours of the pig roast sailed by in something of a haze. Josefa gave me this photo of my salmon, thickly coated with rich horseradish mayonnaise and scales of radish and cucumber. The fish, not the photo.

salmon josefa

The signs we put up around the property are taken down.


The Spa, of course, which Gil had dug out of the swamp. As far as I know, unutilized for a mud bath. ‘Round the Horn, where you could hike around a promontory, past the pachysandra groves, and wind up back at the Cabin.

Human gatherings are so ephemeral. Did you talk to so-and-so? No? I had an intimate conversation with him I didn’t intend upon. Little epiphanies, most of them forgotten by the next morning.

Gary found a skull.

Rat? Rabbit?

The music  boomed, especially near the speaker, which hovered in a window above the food. George Jones’ essential question: Who’s gonna chop my baby’s kindling when I’m gone? Who indeed?

The rum was drained.


You would think that after the huge smoked brisket, the salmon and the cripy pig, the fava beans and asparagus with Pecorino, and the spicy blue cheese slaw, people’s stomachs would be full to bursting.

Gil in the pit

Gil, down in the Pit, pulled the pig off the fire at just the right golden moment.


And the biscuits. I took a gamble on whole wheat biscuits this time. I think they disappeared even before the rest of the platters were set down. A sparkling day builds an appetite. And shoe golf.

shoe golf

That’s Josefa’s picture. Somehow she caught the shoe flying through the air on its way to the hole, a plastic bin set some 10 yards away. Far enough to make people look ridiculous taking a shot at it. Even college students lowered themselves to try.


But the marshmallows. It was as if people had never seen a marshmallow before. As if they had never seen food before. You can make those? I never knew.

We had cut young green branches up in the woods yesterday morning, and now all the adults were acting like kids, standing over the fire and toasting Gil’s home-made marshmallows with glee.


Everyone had drips of white around their mouths.


Grown men made s’mores. (Gil concocted his version of home-made graham crackers, too.) We layered in slivers of salted caramels.


Our friend Stu left us with a mix-cd that has party tunes, including Ray Wylie Hubbard with the lyrics: Only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and home-grown tomatos. I would add a  third, hand-crafted marshmallows.

Hand-Crafted Marshmallows

6 packages gelatin (the unflavored kind, GoBio has an organic product)

2 cups icewater

3 cups granulated sugar

2 cups corn syrup (Wholesome Sweeteners organic brand has a little vanilla in it)

½ teaspoon salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup confectioners sugar

½ cup cornstarch

(Optional flavorings: almond extract, lavender drops, orange extract, etc)

In the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment combine the gelatin with half the ice water.

Combine in a saucepan: the rest of the ice water, the sugar and the salt. Using a candy thermometer, cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove from heat, pour into bowl with gelatin and whisk on slow speed to combine. Increase speed to high and whisk for fifteen minutes. Add vanilla and optional flavorings at end and whisk for a minute to combine.

Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan that’s also well dusted bottom and sides with the half-and-half mixture of the confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Spread evenly with a lightly oiled spatula. Let stand uncovered overnight.

Turn out onto cutting board dusted with the confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Cut into cubes with a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Dust with the confectioners sugar and cornstarch (mix up more if necessary).

Makes about sixty marshmallows. Enough for a roiling pig roast.


Filed under Cooking, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Music, Nature, Photography

Marsh Mellow

Anticipating guests, Gil goes into superhero mode. Building a spa in the swamp.

gil swamp

Or maybe it’ll be a time machine. I don’t know.

gil swamp cu

Making handcrafted marshmallows.

gil marshmallow

Hanging hammocks.

While I rake leaves, water johnny-jump-ups, inspect sprouting radishes.


Bake a carrot cake. Write a haiku.

Magnolia petals

Fall from the blossoming tree

Even as I sweep

Gil can write a mean haiku, too.

Admit it, we have
Life down pat at the moment
The hummingbird feeds

Oliver stays on the lookout for rascally animals.

oliver swamp

Or a stinky place to roll around. One or the other.

Finally I wind up drinking strong coffee with my old friend Barbara.

coffee beans

This place roasts its own beans and welcomes dogs — not mine though, he’d menace the others.

Sundown, the most beautiful day of the spring, a little cool with warmth threaded through it. Inspiring enough for a haiku. You try.

reeds swamp


Filed under Cooking, Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature