Small Graces

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some custom-made tutus for my dance school. They were delivered earlier this week and today, finally, I got them out of my car. I pile them high on a table in the costume room. Ten little tutus of frothy white net, with pink ribbons and tiny flower gardens inside each skirt. Light from the windows makes the petals glow: violet, orange, yellow, and many shades of pink. Tomorrow I bring my camera, I promise myself.

I go then into the large studio, Top Hat in hand. Yesterday we rehearsed for the “Midnight Stroll” section of our New York Nutcracker. Forget Swan Lake, I told the dancers. Think Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

And in my aster pink studio, I watch the black and white of Fred and an endless chorus line of men in white tie and tails. I listen as his cane raps out sharp explosions. I watch Ginger in her impossible ostrich feather gown. Her skirt too swirls around her ankles, and under it, a nearly invisible little kick of impeccable timing.

Her hands pose in the air, one shoulder lifted and forward. A type of surrender, I think to myself later. I watch, my finger on the rewind button. I get up and follow a short section.

And then I put on my music, lift my hands into that position, and let myself go. And where before there had been a stodgy stickiness, an inability is make a dance, now a gentle flow, a swaying of foot to foot. Hair marceled and the discrete glint of a well-placed broach. Shoulders waiting to receive an encircling arm. And those hands.

I give in.

True Style

Halloween is coming. This weekend will be spent sewing a hakima for son the younger, so he can be an anime character, and shopping the Salvation Army for son the older.

Halloweens past I’ve sewed costumes for pumpkins, dinosaurs, Hercules, and Inuyasha (anime characters are big in our household). As you can tell, I can do a lot with felt.

My book on fashion icon Iris Apfel came today. I turn the pages slowly, savoring each image of sumptuous fabric and jewelry found in both souks and thrift shops. By turns elegant, dramatic, and whimsical, her style combines couture and the exotic, impeccably cut coats and feathers dyed fuchsia. I linger over a pair of cuffs made of googly eyes.

First thing we do this weekend is plug in my glue gun.

Change of Weather

Autumn has come to Texas. I woke this morning at 3 a.m. to a cold house. I got up and turned on the heat. This morning the kids and I wore jackets. Looking out the window during yoga, I saw the trees had changed color. The yellow leaves, backlit by the sun, flutter in the stiff breeze.

I got my hair cut today. Dean snips away the uneven and brittle ends, leaving me with a saucy flip at the nape of my neck. I have not had hair this long for fifteen years. Leaving the salon, I zip my jacket up against the chill. Hair grazes my collar and falls down the back of my neck. First, I shake my head to hear its rustle in my ears. Then I give my head a little toss, to bring the fragrance of my hair to my nostrils. I savor this, my special treat. Once every other month, for just a few hours, there is perfume in my hair.

The sun is bright but not warm. The flag at the corner bank snaps in the wind.

At the red light, I pinch a lock of hair between forefinger and thumb and bring it to my nose.

When Skeletons Dance

Today I went shopping for the ofrenda (altar) I am making for Lawndale Art Center’s 20th Annual Day of the Dead celebration. I went to my local Fiesta grocery store where I picked up some limes, some artificial flowers, and a few altar candles. Next stop: Casa Ramirez, a local gallery who specializes in Day of the Dead. There I bought some purple and yellow oilcloth and a glittery sacred heart.

Once at the gallery, I used a box to create a tier. I placed the purple and yellow oilcloth over this and tucked it under the box to create pools of fabric on the table. I anchored these on either side of the tier with marigold yellow candles. Atop the tier I put a black and white skeleton candle and my sacred heart. The red heart has a yellow flame emerging from its crest and a small black and white skull glued to its center.

I used the limes to line both the front of the box and the space between the wall and the table. I tacked copies of photos of my mother, my grandmother and grandfather onto the wall, next to orange and red “papel picados,” traditional Mexican paper-cutouts. I placed photos of my father, my stepfather, and my great grandmother on the table and surrounded them with rock salt and orange and red hibiscus blossoms.

Monday I go back to place plants on either side of the altar, orange and yellow edges to the green leaves, and to create an arch of hibiscus flowers on the wall around the photos. I stand back to admire my work. I love the skeletons juxtaposed against the riotous color.

I go now to put a chicken in the oven and roll out some cookies. When they have cooled, I will frost them white and use black gel to draw in hollow-sockets for eyes.

Skeleton Ball

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of my mother’s death. Last week I put up my annual Day of the Dead altar. Amid the sugar skulls and paper mache skeletons are photographs. There is my mother in her wedding dress, the one she wore to marry my father. My grandmother sewing a quilt. My father holding my younger son, my older son next to him in my husband’s lap. My grandfather, looking almost unrecognizably young. A small studio portrait of my stepfather.

There are orange and purple candles. My mother’s hairbrush, my father’s ashtray. A couple of teabags, to represent my grandmother. A few stalks of wheat, to represent things harvested. An old Paris metro ticket, representing other things I have lost.

Yesterday at the store I bought a small bag of tiny pumpkins. This morning, when I return home after dropping son the younger at school, they greet me. Shining like smiles, on the middle step to my left, they surround a larger pumpkin. To my right, on the top step, they nestle against a pot of chrysanthemums. The mums are yellow, edged in brown and burnt orange.

Inside, light catches the glitter in the deep-set eyes of the marigold yellow skull I bought in Albuquerque. A pink flower covers its crown. A black cross marks its forehead.

In the kitchen, the kettle sings, calling me to my tea.

My Grandmother’s Kitchen

Today started off gray and rainy. I took my camera to my studio and began photographing a pair of salt and pepper shakers I inherited from my grandmother. I left the dust and grime on them and paid loving attention to the cracks in the ceramic. I sat for a moment, trying to visualize where in my grandmother’s kitchen these shakers had lived. On the shelf near the window above the sink?

The shakers are a pair of chickens, a rooster and a hen. They are white with swirls of black for eyes and feathers. Their “wings” are yellow.

My grandmother’s kitchen was always painted yellow. For years, the curtains were a pattern of red, green and gray. The fabric dated from the 1940s, most likely. When she was no longer able to arrange such things herself, I had the kitchen painted and bought new fabric to make new curtains. The fabric I bought had red cherries. I also bought some new wallpaper, also with a cherry theme.

My grandmother’s kitchen often had fresh flowers from her garden on the table. My grandmother was the kind of woman who kept a tablecloth on her table. Lilacs, sweet peas, or phlox in a small juice glass.

I have that juice glass in my cupboard. I fill it with water and go into my front yard. The lavender there is blooming. I deadhead the roses and bring in two sprigs of lavender blossoms and a single rose. I place the glass and the flowers next to my writing chair where, mornings, I confide my thoughts to my journal.


The day before yesterday my younger son and I went next door to use the neighbor’s pool. Or rather I went to watch him play in the water. As I watched him cavorting, my attention was drawn to the surface of the water. The late afternoon sun of early fall was already starting to set, and my son’s playful movements turned the reflections of sky and trees into Monet’s “Water Lilies.”

I ran to get my camera and spent the next 30 minutes capturing molten gold and swirling purples. When my memory cards filled up, I began to notice the mosquitoes and hauled my protesting son from the pool. As he showered the chlorine from his hair, I sauted garlic, ginger, chilies, and curry paste. I put cardamon, milk, and rice into a pot. Later that night we had chicken curry and kheer, an Indian dessert.

This morning I went to yoga and somewhere between “bridge” and “plough,” I found myself thinking about my changing attitude. In ballet class, I suspect, I’ve always tried to achieve what I thought was the goal, the end position. Often by hook or crook, which is to say, by taking shortcuts, the “easier” way. Now, in yoga, when I find myself struggling with a pose, I deliberately stop myself from going to where it is easy for me, from “cheating.” Instead I try to feel my way along the “right path.” Today in class it seemed to me that the goal in fact has never been to “arrive,” but that is has always been the struggle itself.

You cannot be on the path, says the Buddha, until you have become the path.