Notes on the proper selection of an appropriate amulet

Ask the sun, when you fell upon me, reflected off the orange garbage truck my streetcar was stuck behind on the way to work this morning, filling the streetcar with bright amber light and turning the interior into mysterious silhouettes, was it a judgement or a blessing? Or do you not perceive any of us at all?
Ask the crows, what say the slain? And listen to their answer: they are waiting for you to delineate your sadness over your mom dying, to put a name on it, for you to find a balance for it between heart and head but for that to happen it has to come out of the dark. They are waiting for you to understand something ununderstandable.
Ask the bear, do you feel like I do when I am walking down the stairs at the subway station and faster descenders pass me right and left when you stand in the river and running salmon crowd past you on their way to spawn, or is there a difference bc you are eating them and I am not? And are people right who say a fish does not perceive the water surrounding it, or are fish as aware of it as we are of air and ground, do they even hold swimming contests and do they maybe, crowding into the mouth of a river on their way to spawn, arrange dates when they hit it off, baby that shady spot under the alder tree, lay your eggs there, I have so much milt for you.
Walk in a circle while reading the instructions on the can of blue insulation foam, especially the bit that says ‘only fill the space 1/3 of the way with foam, as it continues to expand after application’ because if not the foam will expand uncontrolled and drip onto the floor and onto the attic ladder/steps, the bookcase, two books, your slippers, your shirt, your glasses and your hair, and if that happens do not try to wash it out of your hair because the instructions also say, For better adhesion dampen target area prior to application, and if you read that after making your hair wet you will feel like a moron, justifiably, and the insulation foam remover you rush to the hardware store for won’t work for you either, although if you make an emergency appointment with your hair stylist she will, together with two colleagues, in the emergency hair salon operating room you didn’t realize they had, using the foam remover and some stuff they use to remove hair extensions, in a dramatic and slightly painful medical-drama-style operation not only successfully remove every last bit of foam (which is, chemically, a close relative of super glue) from your hair, which you had expected would have to be shaved off, they will also laugh while working on you and say, “This is a first, this is one for the books, we have never had anything like this,” and ultimately style your hair and leave you looking nicer than ever, and charge you such a paltry sum you give everyone big tips.
Ask the crows, what say the dead, to which they will answer, nothing today.
Then wander into the junk shop with your eyes closed and hold your hands over the amulets and feel the vibes.

Calibration

I don’t know if you do this.
Maybe you do this. Maybe it’s universal:
measure all other memories by this one memory you have.
Not necessarily a dramatic or rambunctious one.
For me it is the time I sat in the bamboo patch next to my uncle’s junk pile.
The main quality is one of peace. I was about 3-4 years old, so not in school yet.
No obligations. Summer. Warm – I had a beagle pal cuddling and watching out for me.
I was wearing bib overalls and a felt hat.
Watching chickens, those nourishing animals, scratch in the dirt.
Watching their shadows, and the shadows of the bamboo, playing in the light.
Listening to the sounds the chickens made.
No other humans to make happy or proud or otherwise perform for.
Just the peace. Lots of time. Animals. Plants. Smells. Interesting light.

Christmas Eve at the wrong supermarket

The line at the deli counter moves slowly,
but it moves. Everyone is calmer than I expected.
A young woman, maybe she’s 30, or a little younger, appears beside me,
touches me softly on the arm. Behind her the rain
stops and the sun comes out.
She stage whispers, “I’m at the wrong supermarket!”
The man in front of me, same age as her, smiles, watching this unfold.
“Not only that, you have the wrong man,” I whisper back.
Only then does she see me, old guy unlike her man in every way.
The other man chuckles with warmth.
So do I.
We have all felt what she is feeling.
She hooks her arm into his.
They leave for the right supermarket.
I stand where I am,
waiting for my cold cuts,
still feeling that touch.

Public service: How to decorate a Christmas tree when you have cats

Mostly, it is up to you. I claim no expertise. An online search for this information turns up far more ingenious solutions than I could devise.
But this is what I (with 3 cats – that is, I live with 3 cats, I decorated the tree with my daughter Gamma) did:
First, I got a nice tree. A few weeks ago, my wife Alpha and I went to the tree guy (local tree farmer) as early as possible. We weren’t the first people to go there this year, but we were the first ones to buy a tree.
In fact, they were still setting up when we arrived. Only one tree was standing. Viennese people (they had Vienna license plates) were looking at a pile of trees lying against the barn. Alpha and I looked at the first tree standing. “What about this one?” I said. “Ok,” she said.
She did insist the owner measure it before we bought it, and the tree was a little tall for our living room but I always cut a bit of the tip off to fit the red star on the top, and she raised her eyebrows but relented. It was, after all, a very nice, thick, symmetrical tree. And it is such a pleasure to buy the first item you inspect when you have been dreading an hour of comparison shopping.
We asked them to deliver it, as every year, and NOT to grind the end that fits into the holder because we have our own holder and it has a big hole.
They delivered it with the end ground down to fit into a wooden base that they had attached.
We like to use our own holder because you can put water into it and maybe the tree lasts a little longer, or at least the needles might not fall off as fast. I don’t know if there really is a difference because we have never tried the old-school wooden cross holders. So I considered using it this time because 1. it was already attached and 2. I might find out experimentally if the needles fell off faster without water.
My daughter came out on Sunday to decorate it with me while my wife Alpha did a writing retreat with our daughter Beta.
The most important thing Gamma and I did was, we didn’t get high before decorating the tree.
The weed kids smoke nowadays is stronger than it was 40 years ago etc etc.
I will spare you the comedic anecdotes.
So, sober, we stood up the tree.
That wasn’t so easy, it turned out because this was the biggest, heaviest tree I had ever purchased, I noticed when I tried to carry it into the house. But eventually it was inside, and standing.
Gamma determined that we had an appropriate tree for our family Christmas, because it was left-leaning.
So we took off the wooden base (with a hatchet) and stuck it into the holder thing and eventually, after some trial and error, got it to stand straight.
Then I put the red star on the top, which involved some clipping and trimming, then more clipping and more trimming and a little carving. (I was happy because I had a chance to use my Japanese carpenter’s saw.) The tree was so much too tall that not only the tip, but also the top tier of little branches had to go.
But we got the star on in the end, and didn’t damage the ceiling very much in the process.
We had received a little bit of friendly derision from family members when it was announced that we would be decorating the tree this year all by ourselves, for examples predictions of an “ADHD Christmas tree”, so we knew we had to have a plan.
This is the plan I came up with: because cats in the Pacific Northwest DO NOT climb Christmas trees due to there being cat-eating eagles at the tops of evergreen trees there (story my sister told me backs it up: a tree fell on her property one year in a storm, they found an eagle nest with a bunch of little dog and cat collars in it, minus the pets) we would put an eagle at the top of our tree. And because cats are afraid of snakes, according to the Internet, we would put a snake at the base. And because there is also a snake at the base of Yggdrasil (the tree of life of Nordic myth), that snake being the terrible serpent Níðhöggr, the eagle at the top of our tree could be the nameless eagle at the top of Yggdrasil, and so we would also need the squirrel Ratatoskr running back and forth between them, carrying messages.
Gamma and I were at an advent market at Schönbrunn a while ago and all we found was a felt squirrel, but no eagle or snake ornaments. I did however buy a deep-sea diver ornament along with the felt Ratatoskr.
So anyway we still need an eagle and a snake, maybe next year.
Alright. That was how the Yggdrasil plan played out this year – cute squirrel, in the upper third of the tree, with the deep sea diver.
That is because of our damage mitigation plan – cheap, sturdy, unpopular ornaments at the bottom, within cat range. Medium ornaments in the middle, where cats might jump, precious ones in the upper third. Then, candles everywhere. We now use LED candles, powered with one AAA battery each, because burning candles on a Christmas tree indoors scare me too much. Alpha bought 3 boxes of 15 candles each at a local discount supermarket and they are cool – not only can you choose between 2 shades of white, they also have an RGB mode where they cycle through the colors slowly, which is really hypnotic and makes me want to get high and watch it although we don’t really need to get high, we just turn off the TV and sit there on the sofa staring at the tree in the dark. (We like them so much Alpha bought 45 more but we still have to install them.)
And after the candles are on the tree, the chocolate. We overpurchased the chocolate ornaments (Mozartkugeln, chocolate umbrellas (those you hang with the little hook handle things), various chocolate ornaments, and, for the kiddies, little chocolate bottles filled with booze.
Then Gamma and I let the cats in and they were well-behaved for the most part, only 66% tried to climb the tree. Then Alpha came home later and kicked them out of the living room.
So now the cats are nonplussed and a little insulted and a little insecure, and when you enter the living room you have to first go into the kitchen, and close the outer kitchen door after clearing it of cats, airlock style, and only then can you go into the living room because if you don’t, no matter how careful you are, a cat will sneak in with you otherwise.
Between the end of Christmas tree season and the day the garbage truck collects our tree, we plan to leave it standing, sans ornaments, and grant the cats access to it.
But they don’t know that yet, all they know is they have been banned and they are mystified why. Certainly not that little bit of furniture scratching, or that negligible amount of peeing.
What could it be? They must be crazy, the humans.
Happy holidays to all who observe.

Silicone baking mat

I was baking baguettes today — still am, actually — but I was doing stretch-and-folds on the old silicone baking mat when it finally came apart. 80% hydration baguette dough was too much for it. In its defense, it has been falling apart for some time now. It all started when I rolled out pasta dough on it and cut it into noodles with a pizza wheel; the wheel was sharper than I realized and left big gashes in the silicone baking mat.
At first it still worked, but eventually silicone fatigue got the better of it and a big piece came out; I had planned for a while to head to the mill to get baking supplies, especially a mat, but today, when I am working from home and the mat fell apart into five or more unusable pieces, I realized it was now or never.
So I went, and noticed right off that, since the last time I had been there, they had expanded the shop by about 100% so now instead of being tiny it is small. And the lovely mill lady was there along with her lovely daughters, which was bad news as I have no sales resistance against them when they are alone and sure enough they ganged up on me today.
Everything unraveled immediately, all of my fiscal resolve, when one of them asked me, Can I help you find anything? And I replied, yes, in fact, I am looking for a silicone baking mat thing, have you got anything like that?
To which she answered, In fact we do. And sure enough, they had silicone baking mats that were far nicer than my old one, with circles of various diameters and in the margins various units of measurement and their conversions, not to mention, haptically, a very sexy texture.
Oh excellent, I said, I ruined my last one cutting noodles on it.
Oh! She said. Then, immediately, by the way we have noodle machines.
Oh, I said. I have always wanted a noodle machine. But I’ll have to think about it.
But of course we all knew by then, I wasn’t leaving that shop without a noodle machine.
I picked out a few flours (all-purpose wheat flour, baguette flour mix, rye and rye whole grain, and what the online dictionary translates as rye scrap, or, in other words, crudely ground rye.
Then the mother explained the differences between three noodle machines they had (price and finish – the stainless-steel was the cheapest, the copper the most expensive, in between they had a red one. Otherwise they are identical, she said. Just pick whatever matches your kitchen best. You don’t put it away, you leave it on the counter.
If you don’t have a cat that pisses on everything you might leave it on the counter, I didn’t reply.
I asked her to explain the stainless steel model to me.
By the way we have a set with additional rollers that make spaghetti and ravioli, she said.
Oh, I absolutely need that, I said.
I looked at spice mixes in between but most of them contained anise, and some of my bread customers hate anise. Then I found the mill’s own spice mix, which costs twice as much but does not contain anise, and added a can of that to my pile.
How do you wash the noodle machine? I asked.
You let it dry out and clean it with a stiff-bristled brush, by no means are you to put it into water, was the answer.
It sounded almost like an admonition in a fairy tale, shortly before the peasant’s son embarks on a heroic journey on account of he put the noodle machine into a sink full of water after slicing the heirloom silicone baking mat into horizontal strips.
Any special brush, I asked.
I use one I found in my husband’s shop, she said.
Ok I have a brush at home.
I sighed, but gee. Hm. Phony reluctance so as not to look too eager.
It’s the Christmas season. It’s a nice present.
Yeah, for myself. I am the noodle maker in my house.
Sure, why not? She said. And your wife will be eating the noodles. It’s a present for both of you.
And we *were* in Piedmont in October and loved it, I said, tipping the scales for her and putting myself out of my misery.
See there you go, she said.
When I got home I carried the flour into the house.
Oh by the way I got *us* a pasta machine, I said.
Hm, said Alpha.
Yeah I’ve really been wanting one since we were in Piedmont, that was such a nice trip.
Hm, she said.
One has to clean them with a stiff-bristled brush; by no means is one to submerge them, or even get them wet.
Hm, my wife said.

Suddenly, a rosebush.

Move to sofa.
Put big cushion on lap for cat to sit on when one of them inevitably comes to help you meditate.
Place laptop nearby so you can check the time so you don’t meditate too long as your phone is still in the kitchen charging.
Close eyes.
Don’t think of anything.
Om.
(Or whatever)
The woodstove makes this… rushing sound. I guess that is the hot air rising up to the chimney? And crackles a little.
Most of the house is dark.
A cat purrs on the cushion on your lap already.
Another cat sleeps on the sofa.
Dong, the woodstove makes this bell-like sound as it heats up, calling you back to the moment like some kind of meditation bell.
Dong.
Therapist last night asked, what do you like about yourself?
Couldn’t think of anything.
Cat purrs like a little meditation helper calling you back to the moment.
Dong, goes the woodstove.
I, hmm, uh.
You are interested in a *lot* of different things, said the therapist, trying to be helpful.
Yes, but without any expertise.
Does that matter? asked the therapist.
Well, I was thinking recently, after reading something along those lines somewhere, what would your 15-year old self say if they met you now? and I thought, they would think I was cool, I have achieved all of their dreams, mostly, I have not only been to Europe, I have moved here permanently; I have a beautiful wife, I have 2 awesome kids, I live in a nice house, I have kissed a girl. Car of my own.
But would I want to hang out with myself? Isn’t that why I am in therapy, to get better at hanging out with myself?
Dong.
Why is the stove donging so much? Is it malfunctioning?
The cat purrs, calling me back to the present moment.
Is the stove leaking carbon monoxide?
That’s what it always says in the newspaper article, malfunctioning woodstove.
Dong. Like a meditation bell. Or a really short alarm bell announcing a carbon monoxide leak.
The cat purrs.
At least the cat is on my lap, with its nose lower than mine, so if it goes limp I’ll still have time to hurry to safety before the CO rises to my nose.
And can, like, try to revive the cat.
How do you resuscitate a cat?
Mouth to snout resuscitation?
Imaginary boss asks, wow, what happened to your face? You try to resuscitate a cat?
I have a tortoise, you would say.
A tortoise did that?
No, it was going to get too cold to leave the tortoise outside at night so I had to bring it in and when I bent over to pick it up, in the twilight, suddenly a rosebush.
Rosebush, imaginary boss says. Wow, be careful. Did you disinfect that? It looks like you tried to resuscitate a cat.
No, you say, ha ha.
Dong.
The fire crackles.
The hot air rushes up the chimney.
Om.

Sitting worms

Some of you are thinking, What? Worms don’t sit. Well you’d be wrong. They sit under leaves and other bio-trash in drawers in a friend’s apartment, okay, to us it looks like they are wriggling when you push back the compost and check on them because you can no longer stand the Schrödinger’s Worm situation, the uncertainty, am I even really caretaking anything actually alive etc etc.
But in another way you’d also be right, because this here is about me sitting worms. A friend went out of town and I stayed at her place for about 10 days watering plants and looking after her compost worms. It was kind of cool, I got lots of thinking done and whenever a plant died i could just feed it to the worms and no one was the wiser. The worst part was when a guy facetimed someone outside the window in the middle of the night and kept me up for a hour.
But then she had a falling out with her alpha worm sitter, who had minded the worms before I took over and was supposed to take back over when he returned from visiting her out of town, and I was promoted to emergency worm sitter.
What is an emergency worm, you ask? I don’t know. That’s not what this is about. Either a worm you use in an emergency, like you are suddenly inundated with stuff to compost, or it is a worm having an emergency. But this is about me sitting worms, now longer than planned, due to a small emergency. Mostly, though, it is about me exercising more, eating less junk, successfully reflecting about my own role in my misery and coming out of the whole thing slightly but generally improved.
The worms survived, the plants flourished, even the orchids after I figured out how to water them, the plant that did die died before I started my tour of duty and I am on the fast track to a house sitting career.
There isn’t really a punchline. I lost two kg. I didn’t burn the house down. My wife was still there when I got home, as were the cats and the tortoise. Saw the kids a couple times.