29 May 2010

you can go home again

and when you get home, you can take pictures of it.
and then later, 
when you aren't so tired, 
you can write more about home.
what is it about being home 
that makes my entire body 
collapse in on itself
and beg for more time
sleeping in
the bedroom that still has 
the pink carpet 
i picked when i was 6?

the morning walk along the Mississippi.  
{Yes, that's a pug in the stroller.  He's old and can't walk well, ok?}

recovery from the morning walk

downtown burlington and the snake alley criterium

{snake alley is the crookedest street in the world.}

{and every year, there's a bike race on 
the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend:  
the Snake Alley Criterium.}

28 May 2010

oh, there's nothing halfway about the iowa way to treat you...

I'm headed home to Iowa for Memorial Day weekend, and there are two things you should know about me:
  1. I adore Iowa, as you'll read about below.
  2. I'm quoting a musical about Iowa in the subject line.  In fact, I often quote musicals.  Name the musical I'm quoting, and you'll get a prize.  A really cool one.  No, I don't know what it is.  Yes, it might be imaginary. 
To celebrate my return to Iowa {I haven't been back since New Year's}, I thought I'd take a minute to explain my intense love for this little fly-over state...

Bt-dubs.  Don't ever call it a fly-over state to my face.

I come from a place that is important to the outside world only every four years, or every 500 years, depending on what you’re measuring by.

Every four years, my state—Iowa, the great Hawkeye State—is the first in the nation to vote in the presidential primaries.  Technically, we don’t vote in the traditional cast-your-ballot style; we caucus because we not only must be first, but we must be different.

Actually, that’s not the real reason we caucus, and that’s not the way Iowa is normally described—first and different.

I think the real reason we caucus is because we like the idea of being together with neighbors on an icy January night in an elementary school classroom, discussing and debating Big Topics with people we normally just talk about the weather with.

We also like to caucus because often, people bring baked goods, and that adds a cozy touch to our snippet of democracy.

No, Iowans aren’t usually called different, and that’s fine by us.  We’re more likely to go by “salt of the earth,” a phrase I’ve never understood because wouldn’t a lot of salt be bad for the land and the crops?

Iowans, by the way, are usually concerned with and maybe even semi-informed about The Crops.

This is because:
  1. someone in the family is a farmer {my uncle Tom farms—corn, beans, and pigs}
  2. someone in the family used to be a farmer {my grandpa and generations before him farmed}
  3. crops are a safe topic, along with the humidity {summer} and how it never really gets as cold as it used to {winter, and especially appropriate at a caucus when people are just mingling around before the real caucusing starts}.

If you happen to live along a river, the water level is also an acceptable and worthwhile discussion point, which brings me to the other time that Iowa is important:  during 500-year floods.

Now, these monumental floods happen every 15 years or so {I can explain later why this is, if you'd like}.

The last big flood was the summer of 2008—also a caucus year, making 2008 a bumper crop year for Iowa and the news.

This is an actual conversation I had while watching NBC with some friends:

“Oh my gosh, that’s my parents’ house!  There, up on the river bluff above Brian Williams’ head!  With the blue roof and the decks and wall of windows looking out over the ridiculously flooded Mississippi—see?”

“Why did you people build your town on a flood plain?” someone asked, their whole face scrunched up in disbelief as they watched the water trickle closer to the Dairy Queen on Main.

“Because that’s where the good farmland is.”

That was a very sensible answer, spoken like a truly practical Iowan, but I’m not just a practical Iowan:  I’m an Iowan who feels an intense desire to defend her state against people who just don’t get it.

Why did we build along the river?

Have you ever been on the Mississippi at 7:30 on a June evening, just as dusk is starting to turn?

I have—many times, in a wooden boat my grandpa built in 1954.

There’s a spot just upriver from Burlington, my hometown, where the water always looks like satin, orange satin as the sun slides down the sky.

Another boat passes by, headed back to the marina, and my dad squints to try to see them better:  “Who is that?  Is it Steve?  Looks like Steve’s boat.”

He raises his hand in the silent Mississippi wave, and from the other boat—whether it’s Steve or not—a hand shoots up in return, as if to say, “I see you.  We’re here together on this quiet, unimportant evening.”

And that is why we built along the river, in this place that’s important to the outside world only every now and again.

27 May 2010

calm. cool. collected. (or some like it hot, part II)

While waiting for Tom the Repairman to show up—

But first to recap:  my air conditioner wasn't working, it was 89 degrees in my apartment, my utility room was doubling as a sauna, and I couldn't wait for Tom to get there.  {Another good way to recap is to read this dramatic, perhaps over-dramatic, version of how much I was sweating.}

So I was waiting for Tom, and I was doing my favorite thing to do when slightly agitated.  Or when I have some unexpected free time and I get agitated about how to fill it.  I was cleaning.

I was, more precisely, scrubbing my stove.  I'd had some friends over for dinner the night before; we'd had chicken in puff pastry, asparagus, mashed potatoes, and chocolate souffle.

I'd been so focused on making the chocolate soufflé—Julia Child's souffle—since it was the first time I was making it.  I'd figured, though, that even if it turned out bad, it'd still be chocolate pudding, and while that's not as pretty, it's still chocolate.  Cooking has taught me to release my expectations of the result, a good lesson for outside the kitchen, too—say, at the office.

While I was whipping the egg whites, the potatoes boiled over.  The one thing I'd put on the back burner—literally—was making a mess.  But a little boiling-over potato water doesn't ruin a meal; potatoes are so forgiving like that {hence why I wasn't too focused on them.  Seriously, when you have to whip something to seven times its volume, you aren't thinking about dependable vegetables}.

The mashed potatoes turned out well.  The whole meal turned out well.  The evening felt like the beginning of summer, that first time you sit outside until the sun goes down and you realize it's almost 9pm and you're not too cool and not too hot and the air smells like cut grass and barbecue.

But the stove didn't fare too well, and so the next morning as I waited for Tom, I was scraping crusted potato water off it.

And I was making coffee.
  I read somewhere—probably Real Simple but with a tip like this, it could've been a “How to Be a Perfect Housewife” book from the 1950s—that you should always have just-baked yumminess to offer your repairman.  Not only will your home smell delicious, but you'll be giving him sustenance so he can work harder and longer on your broken whatever.  And he'll think you're really nice.

I had no time to bake, and the leftover chocolate souffle—you know, it doesn't look very appetizing the next day.  You should always eat every last bite of chocolate souffle immediately, even if it means you get sick.  It's worth it, trust me.

Coffee would have to do, and it actually did very nicely.
  When Tom the Repairman showed up, I invited him into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.  As I was pouring it for him, he said two things:

“Look at your fancy little cup and spoon!  A demitasse!  I feel so dainty!”
“Wow, you keep your stove really clean."

I smiled for two reasons:
  • I will always smile when someone gives me a verbal gold star, especially about cleaning.
  • My repairman knows what a demitasse is.  My repairman is a Renaissance man.
After acknowledging how hot it was in my apartment and complimenting my coffee {another gold star!}, Tom opened up my thermostat.

“Well, there’s your problem.  Crossed wires.  See how the white and the blue wire are touching?  That means they’ve created a…what?”

“A circuit???”  I said it so hesitantly that the only way to accurately write that is with three question marks.  I felt like I was back in Mr. Summerson's AP Physics class.  Hello, 1999, how have you been?

“Yes, that’s right,” Tom said as he separated the white and the blue.  I was really racking up the gold stars here.

“And that circuit is telling the burners to fire, even though the system is on AC.”

He went on to explain how with the burners going, the system was pushing 80,000 BTUs through a pipe built to hold 24,000 BTUs and what the increased pressure did—basically kept the freon from doing its job.

It was all fascinating, I have to admit, but in my head it was simplifying to this:  the burners shouldn’t be firing when it’s burning hot outside.

As Tom was putting the cover back on the thermostat, he said, “You put in this programmable thermostat, didn’t you?”

{That ripping sound is all my gold stars being pulled from my chart.}

“You did a pretty good job—just got to watch out for those crossed wires.  Just think of the wires as unsociable people.  They don’t like to be near anyone else.  That’ll be $80.  Make the check payable to the name here.”  He pointed to his hat.

What I Learned from My Broken AC:
  1. Don't get your wires crossed.
  2. Wires are like people who hate other people.
  3. Pay attention in physics.
  4. Always have something delicious to offer your repairman.  Repairperson.  Repairer.  Whatever.
  5. Sometimes, you'll have to pay $80 to find out that you don't know how to do something, such as installing your own programmable thermostat.  Even if you followed all the directions and it had been working for 6 months {during the winter, when of course it doesn’t matter if the white and the blue wires are forming a circuit telling the burners to fire}.

25 May 2010

some like it hot. i do not.

I stared at the thermostat in my apartment:  89 degrees.  Fahrenheit, thank heavens.

But still:  it was 89 degrees, it was 5am, and I was sweating in places I don't like to talk about.

Let's not go there.  Let's focus on how I was sweating on my upper lip, and I don't like sweating on my upper lip unless I'm running.

Before I'd gone to bed the night before, I'd shut all the windows, turned on the air conditioning, and laid down on top of the covers.  Late May had quite suddenly turned into late July {those twists of weather are one of the things I love about the Midwest}, and though I'd made it through the day with no air conditioning, I like to be cool when I'm sleeping.

{Actually, I like to be cool all the time.}

I'd smiled in anticipation about how while I was sleeping, the apartment would cool down to a nice, non-humid 72, and I'd get to have that half-awake, half-asleep moment when you realize you're cold and then without opening your eyes, crawl under the covers.  The word comforter was made for moments like that.

I did not have a moment like that.  Instead, I woke up before my alarm to the realization that if your air conditioning has been running all night and yet it's 89 in your apartment, something is perhaps broken.

What to do with a non-functioning air conditioner?  I did the only thing I know how:  hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to restart the system.

Seeing as my thermostat is not a PC, that had absolutely no effect.  So I opened all the windows and went to the gym.  I was already sweating on my upper lip, and there's nothing that speedwork and an abs class can't fix when your apartment feels like h-e-double hockey sticks.

{That's actually a pretty apt image:  hell has all the comforts of home, but you are not comfortable there.}

On the way to the gym, I contemplated living in my Honda Civic because the air conditioning was working in there.  Honda never lets you down, but then I remembered that I don't really like sleeping sitting up.

After my workout, I did the only other thing I know how to do when something appliance-y breaks:  I called Tom the Repairman.

“Hi, Tom, this is Kamiah.  You came to fix my furnace last November.”


“You said I had a loose screw.  In my furnace, I mean.  That's why it was rattling.  Because of the loose screw in the vent.”


“I'm the girl who installed her own programmable thermostat.”

And then he said, “Oh, you're the Indian girl from Idaho!”

Close enough.  I could clear up his confusion later—later as in when he showed up to fix the air conditioner.  But for that moment, I was  happy to have even the remotest slice of recognition.

That story of later—when Tom the Repairman showed up—is going to have to wait.  This lunch “hour” of mine {really, it's 45 minutes long} is about to run out, and I should get back to my writer-by-day job.

{But I promise the story of later is worth it.  I won't tell you if it has a good or bad ending, but it does include a list of lessons learned.  I think maybe my story is a fable; they always include lessons, right?}

23 May 2010

what do you think jane austen should've prepared you for?

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time during a three-day blizzard my junior year of high school. My family lived {and my parents still live} on top of the Mississippi River bluff in Iowa; unless we wanted to slide straight from the top of the hill and onto the frozen river, there was no way we were getting out of our house.

We all adapted to this in our various ways. My mother, for example, made cheese souffles for breakfast and squeezed her own orange juice—anything to fill more time. With that plan, breakfast took until it was time to start lunch.

And I read. I found Pride and Prejudice on one of the many disorganized bookshelves in the house—most likely sandwiched between a cost accounting textbook and a guide to the best National Park hikes {the eclectic reading of parents who are both accountants and like outdoorsy stuff}.

In a classic—or stereotypical—book nerd moment, I barely stopped reading Jane once I started. I do remember being amazed at and eating the cheese souffle. I do not remember changing out of my pj's, even though reading Jane made me want to wear some sort of empire waist dress.

So there's the beginning. And we can skip over the boring stuff where I read all her other books and got a degree in British literature and visited her house in Bath. {If there had been a life-size wax figure of her, I would have a picture posing next to it. I really would.}

Instead we'll skip straight to: reading early 19th Century romances doesn't prepare you for the reality of the 21st Century, living on your own in a new city and trying to figure out what it means to be grown up {and accepting the fact that the definition can change daily}.

I know that's not an epiphany. If you want to prepare for the reality of the 21st Century, obviously you read lots of self-help books and watch reality TV. Everyone knows that.

What, exactly, did I think my extensive Jane Austen reading prepared me for?

Jane Austen prepared me to be swept off my feet by a guy—but only after I made the careful, well-explicated, and understood decision to jump into his arms and tell him to sweep away.

She prepared me to be Elizabeth Bennet: hard-edged diamonds of words and a sardonic smile and “Why, Mr. Darcy!” in that English intonation of up-down sing-song.

I learned to embody Elinor Dashwood: distrustful of emotional outbursts because they can be like that too early burst of spring. For one day in early March, when it's 65, you're almost able to feel summer's flip-flops. You start to imagine cook outs and afternoons reading in the park and sleeping with the windows open.

Then it snows the next day and winter feels more frigid than before. That's why you don't let your emotions get ahead of your logic, and that's what Jane Austen prepared me for.

She taught me to maintain distance until your footing is sure.

She prepared me for the depth of an “I hate you, I hate you, I...love you” relationship.

She made me demand to be appreciated for my intellect.

I learned that there's joy in small revelations and that the heart can break on even the tiniest of them.

Jane Austen prepared me to face embarrassing relatives, self-centered friends, enemies with smiling faces, unwanted marriage proposals...

But Jane Austen didn't prepare me for this: the life I find myself living and enjoying and appreciating and laughing at {and getting angry at} and wanting more of.

That's all right, of course. And it's kind of nice to have a standard line to pull out when I'm surprised by a turn on a path I thought was straight—or a path I thought I knew so well.

21 May 2010

No, seriously, I still don't get a) why you're blogging, and b) why you think the name of your blog is so perfect

{You're probably also wondering why I make everything, even a title, sound like a to-do list.  Let’s just start with Item A on that list.}

Why blog?  For a very selfish reason:  I want to write more, as I mentioned before.

I mean, really, are personal blogs ever started for non-selfish reasons?  These things are basically journals with HTML coding.

Wait, that might not be true:  with a blog, you hope against long-shot hope that people actually read it.  And with journals—

I've kept a journal since I was 15.  I have all of them lined up in chronological order on a bookshelf, right beneath the shelf with non-fiction works alphabetized by author's last name.  {You may now be figuring out why I make everything sound like a to-do list, even if I don't intend that.}

Just because I keep my journals in my living room does not mean I ever want someone to actually read them.

Of course not.

If you're ever perusing for something good to read on my bookshelf, please go for Laurie Colwin or Virginia Woolf or yes, even Jane Austen.

But people reading my blog doesn't bother me at all, most likely because of the HTML coding thing that reminds me that this is on the WORLD WIDE WEB for all the WORLD to see.

Saying things in all caps sometimes makes it scarier.

And sharing my writing with others can serve as an external motivator to write more {my internal motivators need a little bit of help}.  One of those vicious cycle things but in a good way.

This is not a tangent, I promise:  I have this Kids-Thot-a-Day calendar that my Grandma and Grandpa Callahan gave me when I was in fourth grade.  Thot really is spelled like that; the calendar is for daily encouraging words, not for learning how to spell.

I've used it every year since I was 9 {with some time off for while I lived in France and England}, and reading these sayings now, as a 28-year-old—well, they may also help explain why I like to-do lists and order and pushing through hard times.

Yes, some of them speak straight to the little girl in me, and even when you're 28 {and I'm assuming 38, 48, 58...}, the little girl in you sometimes needs to be coddled and reminded how lovely she is.

But some of them...

A random sampling:
  • You can't do everything at once, but you can always be doing something.
  • Setting a perfect example is the perfect gift you give others.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try harder!
  • Next time you're alone, try thinking.
  • The busy have no time for tears.
  • If someone gives you a privilege, you owe them responsibility.
  • Love is like money:  it must be earned.
There is one day in there, though, that is especially apropos for today:  Sharing is caring with a friend.

So I'm sharing my writing with you, which must mean I care.  And there you go, I've proven myself wrong:  I just gave a non-selfish reason for doing a blog.

I'm doing this because I care about you.

To show how much I care, I will now share a poem.  You can think it's deep or silly or whatever, but I've been writing a poem a week for the last six weeks, and it's time one of them made it out of my journal and into HTML code.

A Beginning
It starts like this:  a beep beep beep at 5:20
I wake up to find the world is already ahead of me
Out my window, I see the start of the morning:
            orange fireworks on a pink-blushed sky

(Later—in 3 hours—as I drive to work, the morning in full shine, the orange-pink is gone, replaced by a non-color haze and concrete and telephone lines.)

One bird chirps in the tree outside my window
Then takes off, headed to the fireworks show.

I turn off the alarm and take off, too.
Not to the fireworks show but to the Every Day
Which, if you look at it right, can seem explosive.

19 May 2010

and reason c3c: the impossible dream

And finally, I decided to start a blog back in 2008 because of the book deal.  Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't there always a book deal involved when you have a blog?

Especially if your blog already has a witty name?

So I’ll now be spending all my free time just hanging around waiting for the big publishing houses to call me.  Or maybe they’ll just show up at my door, a la Publishers’ Clearinghouse, although I do understand that just because Publishers’ Clearinghouse and publishing houses share a few words, that does not mean they’re the same.

This plan may cramp my modern-day Jane Austen, 20-something life I’m supposed to be writing about.

18 May 2010

reason #2 for blogging: free internet

I also thought it’d be a good idea to blog because back in August 2008 when I set up this thing, I had free Internet.  By free I mean I was stealing from a neighbor.  And by neighbor I mean the church across the street.

Yes, I stole from THE CHURCH.

Lord, have mercy.

Unsecured Wifi leads to one of those “maybe it's not so bad” justifications for what seems like a slight sin.  It's not like I was embezzling, for Pete's sake; I was simply borrowing bits of communication.  That's all.  And I would think that the church would want me to keep up with my friends and family.

But yes, I am aware of the eighth commandment.

I just didn't feel like adhering to it when I figured out that Our Lady of Internet Generosity across the street didn't require a password.  It began with quick email checks and quickly devolved into setting up a blog.

In between, I'd like to point out that I used the stolen Interwebs to set up automatic withdrawals to support two of my friends who are missionaries.

{It's always nice when stories of sin have a spot of redemptive hope.}

So back when I had free (except for the cost of stealing on my soul) Internet, a blog seemed do-able.  I could update daily!  From the comfort of my bed, aka the only place in my apartment where the Internet worked!  What a plan!

Then I moved.

No more sweet and generous church across the street.

And more importantly:  I had a mortgage.

I entered what I now fondly refer to as The Time I Freaked Out about Every Penny Because I'd Just Written the Biggest Check in My Life and Signed a Bajillion Papers about How I WOULD NOT DEFAULT ON MY MORTGAGE.

Coming up with catchy names for eras is not a strength of mine.

But I am really good at Freaking Out about Every Penny.  That's pretty much a lifelong trait, not just a post-mortgage trait.  The mortgage simply heightened it, and things like creating and sticking to a budget help control it.

Suddenly—in that late summer 2008—if it wasn't building equity, I wasn't paying for it.*
{* Notable exceptions included:  food, new furniture, books, my cell phone bill, and my vacation plans.}
The Internet, wonderfully connective as it is, did not make it through the first round of budget cuts.  And when its line item disappeared, this blog disappeared.

{Please note:  I do not blame the church and how it made me so reliant on its free Internet for my inability to blog.  Like many in America right now, I'm blaming the mortgage crisis for my problems.}

17 May 2010

small victory: an actual post

Here's the deal:  I set up this blog in August 2008.  Yeah.  Almost two years ago.

I will pause here to let you judge me for my slackerness and lack of follow-through-ness (and to give you time to be impressed with my ability to make up words).

I can think of a few things that possessed me to try a blog back in the day.  We'll start with the easiest:  
People told me I should.

Since college and in various situations, I've been saying
“Jane Austen didn't prepare me for this.”   I pull out the Jane line at the ends of stories about blind dates and eHarmony {mis}adventures and getting a mortgage and that career girl panic that periodically sets in.

I pull out that line for an easy, relatable laugh.

Because it does always get a laugh.  And the laugh is almost always followed with a comment like, “You should write about that.”  Then I laugh and the other person laughs some more.  Laugh laugh laugh.  They compliment my wittiness and how I can charm words like they are snakes and I'm one of those Egyptian snake charmers with that thing that sounds like an oboe and...ok, that doesn't happen.

The true part is that lots of people say I should write about this 20-something life of mine.

The other true part is that I laugh because I don't want to be one of those millions of girls with a blog who thinks she has something original to say about this 20-something life.

But I do want to write—I have a degree in English, after all.  I'm a writer by day, but I want to be a writer by night, too, someone who writes things not related to work.  Besides, “writer by night” has a much more dramatic ring to it, as if I were a superhero{ine} with a netbook.  I’d like to reconnect with that little creative corner of me that somehow got a bit smaller in the post-college jump into work-a-day world.

And so back in 2008, I became one of those 20-something girls with a blog, and I already had a name for it, a name that always got me a laugh:  Jane Austen Didn't Prepare Me for This.

{Quickly, then, I became one of those 20-something girls with a blog she never worked on and a very refined sense of guilt about that.}

There are other reasons {two, in fact, and I'll explain those soon} for why I started a blog and then abandoned it, but for right now, I need to celebrate this small victory:  
an actual post.


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