Monday, August 24, 2015

We Went to the Mountains

Laura and I went on vacation. By ourselves. I generally believe in vacationing with our children. I love being a family of four. We travel well together and I strongly believe that giving them the experience of things outside of their realm of home enriches them. But this time, we were on our own. And, well, it was super awesome. 

I worried about the kids more than was reasonable. But now that we're home and they're still alive, it is obvious that I need to chill much more often. 

I won't bore you with any further exploration of my neuroses. Instead, here are some photos. Also, I LOVE CANADA. Everything about it, especially its people. They're like French people, only friendlier. And they called me "Love". i.e. "Can I get you another drink, Love? Oh, you're welcome, Love."

I'm not even kidding. 

We took a train from Vancouver to Whistler. The scenery was so lovely that I had to put down my book.

I conquered my fear of heights and braved the gondola to experience Whistler's "Peak to Peak." I'm glad I did. I was sweating profusely, but I still got a photo.

Once we got to Blackcomb Mountain, we met this adorable little marmot. We didn't believe he was real, at first. I mean, what are the odds, that the official mascot of Whistler was just sitting here on the edge of a mountain, posing for us. Turns out, he was real. We lead a charmed life. 

Oh, the room service. It was impeccable. The salmon was the best I've had in a really long time. "Would you like anything else, Love?" No, this is everything. 

We went on a bear watching tour. We saw nine bears. Our bear guide was passionate. He knew where the bears hung out.  He knew their names. Their story. I don't typically like strangers, but I liked him.
This photo is blurry, but I'm posting it because of the two bear cubs. How adorable are they? (Very.)

Her name is Ella. And her adorable baby on the left doesn't have a name yet but I'm going to name her Anna. 

Go further. It's my new motto.

Peace out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Waiting and Cropping as a Way of Life

When Laura and I decided it was time for us to have children,  so many years ago, we took the necessary steps, we fumbled a little (a lot) but we figured it out and several years later, Fiona was born. And then, of course, Cyd. (Did I ever tell you the story about when I got knocked up with Cyd? One chance. Natalie Merchant. It's a good story for another time.)

We learned about patience, good faith, and mutual wishes. What you truly want takes time. The waiting is full of uncertainty and needless worry. Everything we want happens, eventually. It always does. 

When our little family grew up, we started looking for the perfect place to grow along with it. Laura and I have wanted a wood burning fireplace for 15 years. And we've dreamed about having chickens, and a little land to sow and harvest our favorite vegetables. Maybe we'll have goats and make goat cheese. And we may adopt a dog. The sweet, smiling kind who will wag his or her tail and look happy when we get home. Because our cats, well, I love them more than they deserve.

So we waited, in our little house. We waited a long goddamn time. 

We have lived enough life to know that wishes wait until the stars and thoughts align in the most perfect way. The universe, patient as a flowering plum, gathers everything we think and hope and then -- poof -- here we are 

in our new (still) little house with lots of land and a dream. A giant one. It's the kind of giant that is endless, without rules or boundaries, and too heavy with promise to carry all at once. It's the kind of dream without a dishwasher or central air.

But it sure as hell has the fireplace we've always wanted.

You know how when you come home with all the groceries in the trunk of your car and you have so much to do and you're tired of the scrambling so you just want to carry as many bags as you can so you don't have to waste time taking so many trips because the kids are hungry and cranky and maybe if you hurry long enough it will all get done and you'll get a few moments of quiet time right before you have to start dinner?

This is how I feel every minute of my life. And I know I need to slow the hell down and be present. If we have tortillas and oranges for dinner, it's OK. And the laundry will never get done. Never, ever, ever.

The TV is still on the coffee table with all those disorderly cords everywhere, and the washer and dryer are in the dining room. The dining. Room.

Waiting is often inconvenient.

We have pockets of perfection. Cozy little spaces where everything is in order. Sometimes, I sneak away and sit quietly in the tiny nook upstairs, but they always find me, and usually spill something.

In the middle of chaos that is everyday, I watch the children in their total blissful oblivion, carefree in their play and I can't help but take a photo to capture the moment. And when I crop the dirty socks and Barbie shoes out of the shot, I think, damn, I'm living The Life. The key is to crop out what doesn't fill your heart with joy. Everything else is in the shot.

There. I've just told you how to live your life to the fullest: crop the crap out of it.

The kids don't give a damn about the horrid kitchen with its stupid electric stove and lack of dishwasher. They haven't even noticed the peculiarity of the bathroom, completely devoid of a single hook or towel bar. They like to leave their towels on the floor so, whatevs.

It's past midnight, and there's a fire burning in our new fireplace, and I'm sitting here in the dark after a full day of early morning dance class, and grocery shopping and baby chicken loving and plum tree planting, followed by a casual dinner, outside, of just sandwiches and pretzels and Dos Equis and milk.

It's sweeter than I had imagined. 

And I'm convinced (or at least hopeful) that we've done the best thing.  

If it wasn't for the waiting, what would we have to look forward to?
Peace out.

P.S. DID I TELL YOU WE'RE GETTING CHICKENS?! And one of them will be named Caramia. Mark my words.

P.S.S. Natalie Merchant is NOT the third mother of our children.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Sliver

I was heading out on the road. alone, for a meeting. The sky was blue, my music was shuffling in the most perfect way and I stopped for fancy coffee like some sort of damn professional. I can do this. I am a person. I am more than a whisper.

 I felt my tired body recharge with a sigh of solitude.

Three hours alone in my car with my thoughts and my music. HOLLA! I was happy, shuffling the Indigo Girls and no one else because they are all I need for this sort of sojourn.

I got there an hour early so I stopped for lunch at a random diner I found on Yelp. It was packed. Packed full of gray haired women. I sat alone in a quiet corner.

Everyone was eating chicken salad, contentedly chatting. The waitress didn't know what to do with me when I ordered the portabello sandwich. She never told me the special. I think it may have been chicken salad.

I started to lose my vibe.

The pretending got too heavy.

What am I am doing? I clutched my water glass, lonely, drained.

I made it to the meeting very early, hopeful, sweaty, and there was talk about reach and frequency. It was approved. All of it. I did my job.

But there was one man. One. Seething. Angry. I watched him and could not place his anger anywhere but inside. I was a shell, empty and too easily filled.

I could just leave this place and be back to myself. Why do I have to take it in. But you know how that is. I'm not much different than any of you.

It stays and it festers.

We are sponges and we soak up all the energy and then we move on like nothing has changed us even when it has, in desperate, giant ways.

It was dark and pouring by the time I got in my car to drive home. My windshield wipers weren't working so I couldn't see the road and the semis were zooming past me and i felt his anger all over again and i could not go on.

I could not go on.

So maybe i was crying in the Comfort Inn parking lot. Maybe i had lost.

I wanted to call my mother. But of course, i couldn't.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brioche: A Recipe for Patience

Have I ever told you how much I love to make brioche? All that smooth, sexy butter and rich eggs, not to mention the slow, sensual swelling of the dough as it reaches its maximum flavor, rising overnight, so sure of itself.

I have a thing for brioche.

It's messy. I don't have one of those fancy schmancy KitchenAid mixers, so I do it all by hand. Just like they used to on the prairie.

 The dough is stiff at first and it takes a while to get the butter incorporated. You have to mash it and squish it and if you take photos while you're doing this, you end up with a bunch of butter on your Canon.
And just when you think the dough will never come together, it does. It always does.
The next day, all you need to do is knead your dough and shape it into the most glorious loaf, bake it, and you're left with a silky, tender bundle of goodness. 
If that isn't enough, use some of the dough to make some pains au chocolat. Holy sh#t, the deliciousness.
This luxury of homemade bread smothered in butter is a crucial salve during the winter months when  the frozen landscape and paralyzing chill leaves me numb and empty of that nebulous something that causes joy. The light is dim for too long and the promise feels broken.

Maybe it's worse this year. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's Maybeline.

I am bursting with anticipation for the first sign of green grass, the first sign of the most courageous crocus finding its way through the stubborn snow for a forgotten taste of sunshine.

We recently bought a little house in town with a few acres and I'm dying to discover the land. I want to grow asparagus and broccoli and garlic. I don't care that garlic is a penny a pound. I want to dig it out of our soil. I'm in the mood to grow, to harvest, to reap. I want fields of lavender and native plants. Rows of sugar snap peas, spinach, and heirloom tomatoes.

I want.

Right now, it's a little house of horrors. But you can't judge a house by its horrors. It has the bones and land we've been looking for.  Laura has a vision for the landscape. I have a vision for the quiche I'll be making in our remodeled kitchen, and the fire we will burn in our stone fireplace.  And the chickens we will raise, alongside our children.

The outbuildings are greenhouses in the making.

And it has the most adorable front door.

But it's still winter, we still have another house to sell. We're frozen in limbo until something gives.

At the very least we have hope and brioche to sustain us until the thaw.

Just when you think it'll never come together, it does. It always does. It's messy and difficult, but it's delicious in the end.


Speaking of delicious, I'd like to give a shout out to Old Crown for the scrumptious valentine's day dinner. The pan-seared walleye topped with grilled shrimp and accompanied by asparagus and roasted garlic red cabbage was impeccably prepared.

Cookies by the amazing Jeannie Porter
Peace and love.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'm Trying to Tell you Something About my Life

I don't have time to read all the words. And I don't have time to listen to all the lyrics. Sometimes I try to branch out but I'm always left lonely and bitter about the time I've wasted trying to be a normal person with an open mind.

I have to narrow it down to what my heart trusts and then get stone drunk and addicted to it until there's nothing left. These addictions have fluctuated over the years. I went through my Shakespeare phase in high school. I memorized the hell out of Hamlet. The antic disposition, the Ophelia factor. The indecision, inaction, reticence - the misery. It belonged to me. I wrote every single term paper I could about that crazy dude. I became obsessed with the language, the perfect combination of words. I wanted to be defined by it.

There was also Doestoevsky and Bruce Springsteen. And then there was Dorothy Parker, a quick detour with Harry Chapin. In college, I idolized Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and The Cure.

These days, I've settled with these favorite five:

Barbara Kingsolver
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers (The Indigo Girls)
Toni Morrison
Margaret Atwood

They write the words that float abstractly in my brain. They're able to combine syllables in a way that is so surprisingly perfect that they enlighten pockets of truth, tucked just beneath the surface of everyday.

Do you ever find yourself alone in your car, driving to work, thinking about that one line in Beloved when Sethe says, "Today is always here. Tomorrow, never."

And my mind is full of Kingsolver. "What I want is so simple. I almost can't say it: elementary kindness." My heart belongs to Animal Dreams and don't even get me started on Poisonwood Bible.

The thing about addictions is that you get to know the addictee very well. When you've read every work, listened to every lyric, you become the best of friends, which is another word for stalker.

I admire them, not only for their perfect sentences but for their activism, their vision for a better world. I wring my hands with respect for them.

This year, I made a point to walk out of my comfort zone. I read books I would otherwise not have considered. For instance, I read a young adult novel, Eleanor & Park, written by Rainbow Rowell, and I was CAPTIVATED. I fell in love with those characters. I was heartbroken at the end, left without closure.

But did it change the way I think? Did it challenge me? Did I come across a string of words that was so perfectly strung together that my heart understood something it didn't know before? Did I melt into a puddle of gratitude because of immaculate poetry and precise syntax?

No. And it's alright. I read a book and I liked it.

It's enough.


Monday, September 29, 2014

A Reflection on Running my First and Last Half Marathon

It always starts out the same way. I get to the starting line way too early and I stand alone, freezing, awkward, under caffeinated. I pretend to be cool about it and do some stretching exercises. I watch the other runners and swallow their excitement. Mostly, I yawn and dig deep into my psyche to figure out what possessed me to do this thing.

If you know me, you know that I hate people. Not all people, just groups of strangers. Crowds are my albatross. They suffocate me and wring my energy dry. It's a leaden burden I can willfully avoid and I usually do when it's cost effective. And yet, here I was of my own free will, vascillating between feelings of kinship and loneliness.

There was one couple who touched me. They were in their early fifties. The wife was the runner and the man I assumed was her husband was there to see her off. He made her pose for a photo. Frankly, I would have done the same thing because she was adorable as hell in her matching fuchsia running gear and her shy, accommodating smile. I could tell by her demeanor that she was a silent soul. He was beaming and they shared a quick kiss before we all had to get on our mark.

The first song that came on my running playlist was "Fly Away" by the Indigo Girls and I got choked up and teary eyed like a goddamn infant. My emotions tend to pour right out of my pores when I'm in the throes of a run, but this was ridiculous. I needed to keep it together. Focus.

The Cure's "How Beautiful You Are" was next and snapped me back to my senses.

I decided to follow the fuchsia lady because we seemed to run at a similar pace. Also, I knew she would be smart about it. She would start out slow and finish strong, just like they teach you in those training plans. She was even wearing a hydration belt. And here I was, without water and slightly dehydrated from last night's Merlot. I needed her.

It was amazing how steady our (my?) pace was. I got updates from the Runkeeper app every 10 minutes, and it was the same every time. Usually, I'm all over the place. Stopping every now and then to take pictures of flowers or wildlife, or sprinting ahead when the feeling strikes me. But on Saturday, I was following the rules. I was in race mode.

And I started thinking. Why do I need someone else to dictate my pace, my life? Why can't I just own this?

I've spent hundreds of hours running hundreds of miles training for this race. Why am I always so damn dependent on others, always needing a hand to hold? I can do this. I am capable. In fact, maybe I'm even more.

I decided to let her go.

Springsteen's "Thunder Road" got me safely to mile number six. I was on fire, still pacing steady at around 10 minutes per mile.

Around mile seven, something magical happened.

I found myself running right behind a guy wearing all pink, including a tutu, sparkly butterfly wings, and a tiara. He was even holding a wand.

I loved him.

He cheered everyone on. He waved and gave high fives to the onlookers, even the serious police officers. The little girls on the sidelines adored him, giggling with insurmountable glee at seeing a grown man dressed up as a princess. I followed this guy for a while, soaking up all his sparkly energy. He gave me hope as he broke down all sorts of barriers. You have no idea how much I wanted to capture him in a photo. It was killing me. But I kept running, fed by his beautiful spirit.

I lost him after a couple of miles. He was fast, propelled by glittery wings and all.

Laura and the kids greeted me around mile 10, just when I needed a push.

Those last few miles were rough. By the eleventh mile I crashed and started walking, exhausted. You're supposed to finish strong and just give it your all at the end. But my left foot was throbbing and my legs felt like jello on drugs.

The universe must love the hell out of me because just as I was beginning to despair, a woman came up behind me and patted me on the back. She told me that she'd been following me for a while. I had a great pace, she said. I was doing GREAT, keep going, you can do it!

Do I know her? Why is she so nice to me? Is she an angel?

That's the thing with runners. They have your back. There's a solidarity that comes with the struggle. We're all lunatics TOGETHER.

I picked up my pace. I finished, not strong, but I finished.

I ran 13.1 miles. I've done what I came here to do.

And I probably won't do it again. Not because I didn't love it, not because it's a crazy thing to do, but because I had to give up too much. Too many Sunday mornings. Too many hours spent on a treadmill when I could have been with my family. The time sacrifice required for training is not worth it at this juncture of my life.

But I'll still be on the trail when time allows, ignoring my pace in favor of watching hawks soar overhead. I can't actually walk right now, much less run. But I'll be back. In fact, I'm doing a sweet little 5k this weekend. It'll be a piece of cake topped with rainbows and unicorns.

Running is like childbirth. You forget about the pain, blinded by the adrenaline of love and sweat and the knowledge that I, you, can do what you set out to do. Sometimes you have to push yourself beyond your perceived capability. Because let's face the facts: there are no limits except the imaginary ones we think we have to live within. Your potential is the milky way.

So what if I sound like a self-help book? That shit's for real.

Peace out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Sojourn in Cave City, KY, Deconstructed

 PART 1: The Wigwam Village, a Tourist Trap Adventure

PART 2: Sylvia goes to the hospital

I can't begin to tell you how disappointed I am in her. 

PART 3: The Hotel, a Study on Relative Luxury and Coping

Decent Mexican food and cocktails were within walking distance of the hotel.
They each got their favorite color from the gumball machine. We took it as a good sign as we worried about Sylvia.

PART 4: Mammoth Cave, a Geological Masterpiece

PART 5: Kayaking the Green River

PART 6: Enjoying the Rental Car Even Though We Hate it

PART 7: Still Stranded & Making Ourselves Comfortable in our New Home

She's not really drinking wine so don't go calling the authorities.

To be continued.