29 June 2010

every time i fly, i think...

Why do pilots announce the wind speed and direction at your destination?

I know this is an important-to-their-job details, but unless it's a hurricane or tornado, the average person doesn't think much about which direction the wind is coming from.

{This would be similar to me announcing before I write an article for work, "I have opened Word.  I'm using, as I normally do, Times New Roman to write in today.  Have a nice day."}

I do appreciate the information.  I always appreciate having a lot information, perhaps even too much information.  My theory is that I can pick and choose what I want to pay attention to.  {Spoken like a true multi-tasker of the information age.} 

Why is my flight delayed?

What do you mean exactly by "mechanical difficulty?"  Does this mean engine is going to explode or a little light is out?

Do flight attendants get annoyed that no one ever pays attention to them demonstrating how to use a seat belt?

I once forgot to turn off my cell phone and we still made it safely to wherever I was going.  Why do I have to turn off my cell phone?  {Not that I want to be accessible in the air.  I'm really just curious.}

Why do people on the safety card—people who are being evacuated during a water landing—look so gleeful?  So happy to be jumping down the inflatable ramp?  Do they think it's a ride at Disney World? 

What is the wind speed and direction at my destination?

27 June 2010

a sunrise on my way to orlando

I'm in Orlando right now at the American Diabetes Association meeting, where I'm learning about continuous glucose monitors, how health care reform will impact diabetes prevention and treatment, and how close we are to creating an artificial pancreas.

{I like how I say "we," as if I'm in the lab with the researchers.  As a medical writer, I'm really more of a cheerleader, if cheerleaders exist in research labs.}

That may all sound very dull to you, but it's not to me, which is good, considering it's my job to be excited about it.

On my way to Orlando on Friday, I made this list called Thoughts I Had on My Way to Orlando.  A very clear name for a list, as list names should always be.

Thought #1:

Actually seeing the sun rise makes my heart and mind do the same thing:  rest in thankfulness for a moment of the divine.  In the car to O’Hare, I got to watch the sun shoot over the horizon.

It didn’t matter that squat buildings—auto shops, Dunkin’ Donuts, Target, a strip club—were in the foreground, blocking part of this bright fire of a morning routine.  You think perfect sunrise moments are on lakes or oceans, in mountains, or with you family.  But in reality, with the sun climbing over the horizon one more time, every sunrise is its own perfect, no matter where you are.

The sunrise, no matter where I see it, makes me think of Mary Oliver's "Morning Poem."  Read it.  Actually, I'll put it in here.  It's that important of a poem.  To me.

And maybe someday, I'll write a poem that makes me feel the way this poem does:  hopeful, bursting with imagination, in awe of the great and small details of our world.

Morning Poem 

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

23 June 2010

the one date i can't find in my planner

One Friday night, I could've done anything, but I chose—instead of baking or sewing or reading or making anything more complicated than a grilled cheese for dinner—I chose to watch a movie I knew would simultaneously comfort and hurt me.

27 Dresses.  The first time I saw it, I was with a good friend at this old movie theater in my town, the kind with just a few screens and where the ticket and the popcorn are the same price:  cheap.

The movie made us both giddy when we saw it in the theater.  Pretty dresses!  Living in NYC!  Adorable apartment!

For girls who live in the suburbs but feel that deep down inside we're urban chic, 27 Dresses
made us forget that just outside the movie theater were SUVs packed with soccer cleats, hockey sticks, trombones, and all the other paraphernalia that comes with having 2.5 children in suburbia.

But the movie also made us upset that the straight-laced girl has to get drunk in order to finally become crooked-laced {or whatever the opposite of straight-laced is}.

They always do that in movies, you know.  There's always the girl who's too attached to her planner and her immaculate order, and there's always the moment she finally lets her guard down and allows Prince Charmant in.  That moment always involves alcohol.


Ok, maybe it's just always in romantic comedies.  I'll try to be more accurate with my blanket statements, but I’ll back up my blanket with examples.
27 Dresses
Guys and Dolls
10 Things I Hate about You
Never Been Kissed {technically, this one involves marijuana, not drinking}

As a tiny side note—hence the tiny font size—I realize that my theory doesn’t exactly hold up.  I can disprove myself simply by saying Meg Ryan.  And I bet there are plenty of other ways to disprove me, so why don’t we move beyond this side note and return to that Friday night when I changed into my flannel pajamas at 7:30.  Yeah, let’s focus on how cool/social I am.

That Friday night when I watched 27 Dresses alone, it comforted me because it's a love story.  It's someone I don't know, and they're having adorable moments in beautiful clothes.  I don't have to deal with jealousy when it's Katherine Heigl.

But the movie hurts because of course it's just a movie and it must end well.  {Unless it's a French movie.}

The girl may be single and denying it hurts in the opening scene {generally takes place at a publishing house in New York}, but by that last scene, she's kissing someone perfect for her.

Someone who gets her.

Someone who cares more about her than he does about himself.

And in between those scenes, she gets drunk and the story turns.

After watching movies like 27 Dresses, I don’t start plotting how to create this shiny, perfect hair, perfect vintage apartment, white teeth world.

It’s not even that I want that life to replace my life.

My life is shiny, too, and while I may not have perfect hair, I have some charming vintage furniture, a closet full of sassy skirts, and very healthy teeth {never a cavity!}.

Movies like 27 Dresses do make me wistful, though.

And then I roll my eyes at myself {a tricky thing to do—try it} because I don’t like this pining after a life that isn’t real.  I don’t like that part of me, even the smallest part, finds comfort in these movies.

I seriously get hopeful when I notice similarities between fictional characters and me.

I have an over-stuffed planner!

I do crazy things such as scrub the stove when I can’t sleep!

I like to cook when I’m angry!

I…well, I don’t actually live in New York, but I like the idea of living in NYC, and I’m sure if I were there, I’d live in a brownstone on the Upper West Side!

I don’t want to admit this, but I must:  movies like 27 Dresses give me hope that I won’t be alone for ever.  If the crazy, planner-obsessed girl on the big screen can find the right man, then maybe this planner-obsessed girl will eventually have a wedding date to put in that planner.

I know it’s silly to take hope from Hollywood.  I know my hope rests in God alone and that he has a much bigger plan{ner} than mine.  I know that I should hold all my dreams loosely as I lift my hands to God.

But that’s the practical side of me.  For the emotional side of me, I sometimes need a Friday night alone, an unexpected one, where I take a little eye-candy comfort from 27 Dresses.

22 June 2010

confessions of a hot dog lover

Surprisingly—or perhaps not surprisingly if you know me well—I have some more thoughts on hot dogs.  More specifically, I have a brief snapshot of hot dog love to share with you.

Picture it:  St. Louis, June 12, 2010.

No, let me back up.

Picture it:  a gas station on Roosevelt in Wheaton before I hit the road to St.  Louis.  I had a wedding to go to, and I was leaving just before lunchtime.  That morning, I'd run a 5k in my best time ever so I fully deserved a gas station hot dog.

My self-reward system is unique, I know.  I switch between rewarding myself with bad-for-me food and high-end cookware.  The next time I get a raise, I'm going for Le Creuset.  Or a funnel cake, haven't decided which yet.

I was about to buy my hot dog when the guy at the gas station tried to use his wiley salesman skills by saying, “Oh but miss, the hot dogs are 2 for $2.00.  Are you sure you don’t want another one?”

I will not tell you how seriously I debated this.

Then later, around dinner time in St. Louis, I was driving from the wedding ceremony to the reception—a dessert-only reception.  {Chocolate fountain.  I think that’s all I need to say on that topic.}

The QT gas station sign was what did it:  they were having a 2 for $2.00 deal, too.  I’d let that opportunity pass me by once already, and I am nothing if not committed to a good deal and processed meats.

Now picture it:  I’m in a dress from White House Black Market—a dress that should’ve cost $170.00, but I got it on sale for $40.00.  This dress makes me feel a lot like Laura Petrie from The Dick van Dyke Show and a little bit like Grace Kelly as a brunette.


And I’m having a one-girl hot dog eating contest.

Shoving it in—no time to chew.  I have a chocolate fountain and eight kinds of cupcakes waiting for me across town.  This is no time to worry about chewing.

I am careful, though.  Those hot dogs are dripping with ketchup and mayonnaise, and I even used some of those chopped onion packets.

{Note to self:  never use those again.  I may be able to put up with fake meat, but I can’t stand overly processed onions.}

One drop of ketchup and there goes my Laura/Grace feeling and I’m back to being a girl on a road trip, justifying her third hot dog of the day.


17 June 2010

tradition, expectations, and favorite underwear

My mother got a tattoo:  this is part 3 of that story.  You can go back to the beginning {and read all about how she sprung this news on me in the bathroom} here.

I worked through my tattoo shock during Fiddler on the Roof.

During the song “Tradition” when the people in Anatevka explain the very specific roles each member of the family and community plays, I leaned over to ask my mom, “But why did you do it?  Why get a tattoo at 53?”

“Because I was tired of being what everyone expected me to be.”

It was hard to miss the irony:  my mother announced that she wanted to surprise people for once in her life, just as a cast of Russian peasants was singing about how mamas should “know the way to make a proper home, a quiet home, a kosher home.”  In Anatevka, you were supposed to do what was expected of you.

But Fiddler on the Roof is about accepting change, especially changes in people you love.  It's a bit about how you may not always agree with their decisions, but that doesn't mean they're wrong.  And Fiddler is very much about family and community—and the continuity that love brings, even when there's change.

All this is very acceptable to me when represented in two-and-a-half hours and with a 15-minute intermission to allow you to buy the commemorative Fiddler nesting dolls.  I even like it when I get that dull ache of pre-emptive nostalgia during “Sunrise, Sunset” as I think ahead to what it'll be like when I'm older—perhaps when I'm 53—and I try to trace back how I got to where I am.

I do not like this acceptance of change idea when it's so clearly represented on my mother's thigh.  {Or anyone's thigh, really.}

But that idea my mother had brought up—of wanting to surprise people who thought they knew you—I connected with that.  That's the idea that makes my nostrils flare when someone tries to fit me into a box.  Being packed into the goody-two-shoes box also makes my eye twitch.

I didn't think that I alone owned that feeling; I just didn't know that my mother had a share in it, too.  Instead of having an eye twitch, she had unpacked herself for good from the goody-two-shoes box by getting that tattoo.

The blue horse on her thigh was an act of ripping the box apart and then stomping on it while wearing very muddy shoes.

Even the biggest changes eventually become accepted, known parts of your life.  The trick is to get through the time when you can't look at your mother without screaming, “TATTOO!  You have a tattoo!”  Keep that voice inside your head:  this is the best advice I can give.

As I learned more about my mother's tattoo—as I stopped asking questions in an accusatory tone—I got used to the idea.  She'd been thinking about it for several years.  She'd picked out the design a year before she actually got it—got inked, I think the lingo is.  She'd decided on a horse because she's always had and loved horses.

She'd wanted to get it on her lower back, but the tattoo man had guided her towards the thigh because it was less visible.

Dear Tattoo Artist in Iowa City—

Thank you for preventing my mother from getting a tramp stamp.

A daughter who would've been more horrified

It's been a year since my mother got a tattoo.  At times, the absurdity of it stops me:  my mother, who used to sew matching Easter dresses for my sister and me, all frills and lace and pastel fabric, has something in common with that guy at my gym who has cut the sleeves off every shirt so that his tiger tattoo is always visible when he's lifting weights.

Most times, though, I think of my mother's tattoo as special underwear.  Don't deny that you have a favorite pair of underwear and every time you wear them, there's an extra kick in your step.

My favorite pair has French on it, useful phrases such as “Quelle heure est-il?”  This would be useful if I needed to ask a French person the time, had forgotten the phrase, and was in a situation where it'd be normal to look at my underwear.

Wearing your favorite pair of underwear makes you feel more powerful and prepared for the day, mostly because it's something that only you know.

My mother's tattoo is her permanent favorite pair of underwear so that even when she's wearing comfy sandals and a khaki skirt, all practicality on the outside, she can walk with a kick in her step:  she has a blue horse galloping across her thigh.

15 June 2010

concerning the hot dog

On the road, I am the great justifier of junk food.  Most of us are:  this is why gas stations do not have salad bars and why the shrink-wrapped chicken salad sandwiches stay in the refrigerated case while Ding Dongs, Bugles, cheesy popcorn {it stains your car seats, you know, and it’s so pervasive—months later, you find orange dust in the trunk}, and Skittles must be re-stocked every 3 hours.

I am a particular justifier of the gas station hot dog.  To me, a hot dog is the ultimate road food: it’s self-contained, can be eaten quickly, and it doesn’t cost much.

Gas station hot dogs are usually about $1.00, the perfect price point for a cheap-o-focused person like me.  But let’s face it, when you think about what goes into a hot dog, $1.00 is an exorbitant price.

I know what’s in hot dogs.  Mr. Desi, my seventh grade science teacher, took it upon himself to explain hot dogs in exquisite detail to my class, which was partly made up of relatives and descendants of pig farmers.  And even if someone doesn’t have swine production in their family history, every Iowa kid can tell the difference between the smell of a hog confinement and the smell of say, just cows.

{This skill does not translate well to big city life, sadly.}

I don’t know why Mr. Desi chose to explain hot dogs to us—perhaps we were overly distracted one day by the hot lunch main dish, a foot-long hot dog.  Or maybe he was trying to toughen our stomachs for pig dissection in ninth grade.

Snouts, intestines, organs, anything else that fell in the vat while mushing up the hot dog mix:  I suggest we start thinking of hot dogs as America’s answer to haggis.  Or to paté.  Or to anything served in a British pub.

People in other countries eat equally questionable food, so America should put hot dogs in their proper cultural context.  And we should not be ashamed to eat them, wherever we may find them.  In gas stations.  At a street vendor on Broadway in NYC.  At Wrigley Field.  At a Fourth of July cook out.

{I’m starting to feel overly-patriotic, as if I should be humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” while writing this manifesto on the very American-ness of the hot dog.  I’m going to stop before I start reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.}

I do my part in honoring America, nostalgia, the food industry, and the classic road trip.  Like I said, I eat a lot of gas station hot dogs, and I'm proud of it.

One nation, under God, indivisible...

11 June 2010

a blue horse galloping away from me

Here's where we left off the story of my mother's tattoo:

And then in the bathroom of the Walnut Room not too long later, my practical, comfortable-shoe-wearing mother hiked up her skirt and said, “Do you want to see my tattoo?”

{To read the rest of the beginning, all you have to do is click here.}

So there it was.  A horse in the style of a Native American petroglyph, those rock drawings you find in Utah and other places out West that the Indians used to share news about hunts.  It was a stylized version of it—the back end sort of devolved into swirly wind lines—but in the few seconds I took to look at the tattoo on the side of her upper thigh, I would definitely say it was a blue horse petroglyph.

“Oh my gosh, Mother, I hope that's a fake tattoo!”

“Nope, it's a real one.”

“On your thigh.  You got a real tattoo of a blue horse on your thigh.”  I felt the need to state very clearly and pedantically the facts of the case, as if I were in court cross-examining her.

“Looks like it.”

“Good Lord, Mother, put your skirt down.”  No one else was in the bathroom, but I still felt, for propriety's sake, that her skirt should be where it belongs.  Hiding the tattoo.

I looked away—down, over, up, anywhere else.

For how fancy the rest of the Walnut Room is, their bathroom is pretty institutional standard.  I thought about how pretty it would be in woodland colors, muted greens, perhaps, with paintings of walnut trees on the walls.  How appropriate.

“That is completely inappropriate, Mother!  You do realize those things are permanent, don't you?”  I did an impatient toe tap as she just laughed—laughed!—at me trying to spit out a complete sentence that didn't involve an exclamation point.

I've never called her Mother so many times in a row, but I couldn't help myself.  I felt the need to use her full name, and for me, that meant pulling out the drawn-out Mo-ther.

“Mother!  Stop laughing!  Does Grandma know you did this?” I asked as we headed back to our table.

My grandma and aunt heard me coming from 50 feet away.

“Mother, it's like I don't even know you anymore.  What in the world possessed you to tattoo your body?!?”

My mom's side of the family has this bouncing, echoing laugh, the kind that's effective even in very noisy places, which the Walnut Room is not.  On a Sunday afternoon, that place is as quiet as an Evangelical church during the confession of sins when the pastor tells you to think about what you've done wrong and get it right with Jesus. 

My aunt and grandma had started their bouncing, echoing, filling-the-Walnut-Room laugh before I even sat back down.  “Melodee,” my aunt got out. “You promised you'd wait and tell her in front of us so we could see her reaction!”

“Oh, she's still having her reaction; you didn't miss a thing.”  My mom’s eyes were all crinkly and twinkly from how much she was smiling.  I think she liked seeing me struggling for balance and poise, which doesn’t seem very motherly to me.

They all looked at me, ready for the show.  I serve as the entertainment sometimes in my family, a role that usually doesn't bother me, but in the face of a tattoo, I thought that maybe I didn't deserve to be the center of attention.

“But Mo-ther, what did Dad say?”

“Your dad made the appointment for me.”

Oh.  My.  Word.  I was utterly alone in this fight.  All my pillars of practical, level-headed responsibility—my grandma, my dad, my mom—had deserted me.

I started to think that maybe my grandma had a tattoo, as well, something like “Quilter 4 Life” in Gothic script.

In a world where my mother had a blue horse on her thigh, even that was possible.

10 June 2010

a question i shouldn't have to ask

This is the beginning of a story for my writing class.  I've actually written more of it, but I thought I'd start with this sneak peek intro.

Since it's part of my writing class, that means I'm opening it up for critique.  Not that everything else on here isn't open for critique.  Critique away, really.

Just please remember the Oreo theory of critiquing:  make your criticism as yummy as possible and sandwich it between two nicer, chocolate-y things.  I think I just made that up, but you know what I mean—go for constructive criticism and eat a lot of Oreos.  They're very good with peanut butter.

There my mother stood in the bathroom at the Walnut Room of Macy's on State Street with her skirt hiked up.

There I stood, skirt thoroughly unhiked, staring at my mother's thigh.

“You got a tattoo?!?”

It was a Sunday in late June, and downtown Chicago was sweating.  Or at least everyone there was sweating, me included as I power-walked down Randolph as efficiently—yet gracefully—as my strappy gold heels would allow.

I was late for meeting up with my mom, grandma, and aunt.  They'd all taken the 7:30 train in from Iowa that morning—leaving Burlington at 6:00 to allow plenty of time for the 45-minute drive to the station.  You always want to have a time cushion; this is one of my mother's travelling rules.

Another travelling rule is:  always take way more underwear than you'll need.  They can be shoved in the corner of your suitcase, barely taking up any room, and wouldn't you rather have them than need to turn an already-worn pair inside-out in the event of an underwear emergency?

So—even if it's just a day trip, consider putting underwear in your purse.

The time cushion rule is a family joke.  It's one of those reliable, comforting yet overdone conversations that families can fall into.  Everyone knows their lines.  No one strays from their part, and we all laugh.

It goes like this:  my dad will say, “Melodee, our flight is at 10 tomorrow morning.  What time do you want to leave for the airport?  How about we get there 2 hours ahead?”

When it comes to schedules, my family typically plays by the rules. If the airline says to be there two hours in advance, we like to be there. Even if we've checked-in online and aren't checking any bags.  You never know what can happen; this, perhaps, is an unspoken family mantra that leads us to do things such as bringing seven pairs of underwear for an overnight trip.

My mother answers, “So that'd be leaving at 7:15, if we want to be there two hours ahead.  What if we aimed to leave at 6:30?”

“If we leave at 6:30, there won't be any traffic, and we'll be there three hours ahead,” my dad explains.

Three hours early starts to sound very appealing and safe to my mom, so she expands it.  “Maybe we should shoot for 6:00.  Even if there isn't usually traffic, there could be tomorrow.  You never know what can happen.”

The time gets pushed back and back until my dad says, “Oh, why don't we just leave now?  If your mother had her way, we would've left for the airport right after breakfast today.”

That's when we all laugh.

Even though I hadn't confirmed this with my mother, I was pretty sure she'd made everyone leave for Chicago by 6:00 this morning.  Maybe even 5:45.

And here I was, rushing, but I wouldn't make the deadline—12:00 under the clock at Macy's. I should've worn more practical shoes, but the strappy gold sandals go perfectly with the brown dress I got for my brother's wedding and then only wore the one time.

Dresses should always be worn more than once.  Except a wedding dress, of course, but other dresses you should try to get good use out of.  It justifies buying them.

Seeing Fiddler on the Roof (with the original Tevye!) on a girls' day out was a fine justification to pull out my brown dress.  First, though, we were meeting at Macy's to ogle all the fancy things but certainly not buy any of them, a worthwhile and cheap way to pass the time before curtain.

“You're late!” my mother greeted me.  She had on very comfortable shoes and khaki skirt, a more matronly choice, to be sure, but I looked longingly at her cushy sandals and tried to imagine my feet in them.  She always dresses so practically, which means she's never worried if she'll be able to walk all the way back to the train station from the theatre.

“I know I'm late!” I greeted her back.  I launched into an explanation about sneaking out of church early to catch the train, but she cut me off.

“Well, you're here now.  We thought we'd go up to the Walnut Room, and you can eat.  You're probably hungry.”

She was right.  I'd had a banana on the Metra into the city, but it wouldn't be enough to get me through the show.

“That sounds good, Mommy.” I don't normally call her that, but it slipped out, I think because I felt taken care of and anytime somebody does that, you're bound to become more relaxed and a little childlike.

And then in the bathroom of the Walnut Room not too long later, my practical, comfortable-shoe-wearing mother hiked up her skirt and said, “Do you want to see my tattoo?”

More to come soon, including what exactly her tattoo is and my very grown-up reaction to my mother's complete departure from everything I ever knew about her.

If you want to know more now, right now, you can jump ahead in the story here:

09 June 2010


I remain convinced that I should be a good gardener.  My qualifications are as follows:
  • I think flowers are very pretty.  They can dress up even the dullest of places, such as intersections or a subdivision of little box houses all the same.
  • I grew up in a farming state.  Being surrounded by so many fields and farm implements must instill some sort of knowledge of plants.  By osmosis, which I do believe is a plant-related term.
  • I like the idea of planting some seeds and watching them grow.  I think this may be more of a metaphorical thing for me; I like the idea of putting down roots and feeling connected to a place.
  • I like to buy bouquets.  And I can't help but think of Virginia Woolf's line:  Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.  Sometimes, just as I'm debating which bouquet to get at Trader Joe's, I say that to myself {in my head, yes, and I only sometimes affect the British accent}.  Repeating lines from classic books brings an air of literary levity to your day, but it can also make you feel/sound nerdy, so use it carefully.
I need to remain convinced of my gardening skills in the face of reality: I kill plants.

Since I moved here five-ish years ago, I have killed:
  • a little daisy tree
  • a peace lily we got for my grandpa's funeral
  • some sort of tree thing that was in my dad's office for years.  Thriving.  Healthy.  Providing little spots of shade and respite.  {Not really.}  It came to live with me, and I kept it alive for a year, a wild horticultural success for me.  I moved then, and I think the tree didn't approve of my real estate purchase.  It judged my condo and found it lacking, and to show me this, it dropped its leaves in disdain.
  • a little palm tree {Note the pattern of little.  Miniature things make me happy.}
  • Serbian bellflowers
  • basil
  • mint
  • lavender
  • more basil
  • cactus
  • poinsettias
  • petunias
  • hyacinths
  • This is embarrassing.
  • I should stop.
I want to be a good gardener, so very much, and so I'm trying again this summer.  How can I be so bad at using water, a natural resource?  {An unhelpful question:  just because it's a natural resource doesn't mean we naturally know how to use it well.  End of oblique environmental side note.}

I spent Monday night with my hands in dirt.  This is a good thing for me; I don't get down-in-the-dirt dirty often enough.  Dirt under my fingernails.  Dirt on my face.  Dirt on the old race t-shirt I put on to do my back-to-the-earth work.  I left on my pearls, though.

Gardening is one of those “God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world” activities.

With your hands in dirt, you forget about the 72 unanswered emails at work and the bills sitting next to your checkbook, waiting to be paid.

You start to feel better about snapping at a good friend because you accept a little bit more the truth that you will not always be good and perfect.  You plan your words for apologizing to your friend, and then you leave the guilt behind.

Dirt makes me calm and more open to the world, perhaps because I was one of those kids who preferred playing in—and eating—dirt.  Gardening is the grown-up version of making mudpies.

Do you see why I so want to be a good gardener?  It's an excuse to get dirty and have pretty things in your life.

And so I remain convinced that this is the summer I actually become a good gardener.  Step one:  Remember to water the plants.

07 June 2010

there is an urge

Do you ever stare
at a sight
so beautiful, so full,
that you get that urge
to write something
so beautiful
so full?

There is an urge to use thou and thee
and orb, e’er and an a-b-b-a rhyme
All that pretty lacework of poetry to decorate your thoughts and
maybe then they’ll look as fancy
but cleanly perfect
as that beautiful sight.

I saw an old barn the other day on my drive to Iowa.

There was an urge to describe
its every weathered board
what’s left of the roof
how it leans to the right.

The field behind it stretched with knee-high corn.
The sun made the stalks look bolder and richer.
A rutted dirt road pointed straight to the barn door.

There was an urge:
to say, in words so fancy
but cleanly perfect—
Something Deep
about the transient side of life.
All described in that old barn that was,
at one time,
where a farmer came every morning
to milk the cows
and to feed the horses
and to begin his day.

The words didn’t come with thous and thees
and you should never force an e’er and orb
when all you really want to say is:
I like the look of that barn,
but I get a pluck of sadness when I look at it.

04 June 2010

what do you do with a BA in english?

The other morning on NPR, I heard this statistic:  English is the sixth most popular college degree.  Glad to know I was in the Top 10.  Although for all the jokes and charges of impracticality, I would think that fewer people would choose to study English.

Even I joke about it.  My senior year roommate was an accounting major.  “With an accounting degree, it's pretty obvious what you're going to be,” I told her once when I was mired in that fear-of-what-comes-after-graduation-when-it-doesn't-matter-that-you-can-recite-Wordsworth.

{“And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils.”  Name that poem, you non-English majors, you.}

“You're going to be an accountant.  But I'm getting an English degree.  What am I going to be?  England?”

{insert laugh}

I wasn't whining then, somehow blaming someone else—anyone else—for what I had chosen to study.  I had wanted to be an English major.  I'd wanted to explicate poems and understand why comma splices are bad and deconstruct Romanticism.

I was more pointing out what everyone already knew—and what, according to NPR {and they never lie}, is still true:  the English major, while a cool major, does not line up with one specific job.  And that can feel a little scary as you try to find one specific job.

This reminds me of a song from Avenue Q, a musical I've never seen, but the songs pop up on my Pandora station for Belle.

Belle as in “Belle” from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I don't understand why Pandora thinks songs from a musical with lyrics like “The Internet is for porn” should be played on a station built around Disney {Disney!  That bastion of good-upbringing and rosy-tinted memories!}.

But the Pandora algorithm is not for me to understand.

Besides, this way, I get to hear “Belle”

Look there she goes, that girl is so peculiar.
I wonder if she's feeling well.

With a dreamy far-off look.
And her nose stuck in a book…

I get to hear

What do you do with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I have no monumental thoughts on this
, besides to say that the English degree is not a useless degree.

My entire proof for that is that I’m not useless, and I have an English degree.  Not that my degree defines who I am {please see previous reference about how studying English does not make you England}.  I never was very good at those calculus proof things.

{My university had a class called Liberal Arts and Calculus; it combined essay writing with equations.  I remember very little from that class, except that my professor made a big deal out of the etymology of calculus. Etymology does tend to excite a certain brand of English major—my brand.  And calculus, for anyone who’s also etymologically excited, means “little pebble used for counting.”}

I really just wanted to share what I thought about on the way to work one day this week.

A musical.  Two, actually.

My degree.  I tried to remember where my diploma is.  I couldn’t.

My calculus class.


Wordsworth.  Daffodils.  Wandering like clouds.


Oh, and driving.  I did think about driving, signaling, braking, etc.

But let’s face it, it’s more fun to try to follow the circuitous, perhaps random route of my mind—much more fun than following my practically-straight route to work and to my cubicle and to my computer.  To what my BA in English prepared me for.

02 June 2010

happiness is puppies. or more specifically, a pug puppy.

{I apologize in advance for how long this is.  Actually, I don't really apologize for that.  It's a good story, and you should—if you really want to—stick with it all the way to the end.  If this motivates you at all to keep reading, I'll put a picture of my little pug puppy at the end.}

I locked myself out of my apartment building this morning.  At 5:30.

I assume this is because God wanted to teach me something.  When you do something absolutely ridiculous, it's a good idea to assume that God is giving you a growth opportunity because if you start looking for the lesson, you'll stop focusing so intently on how stupid you feel.

This concept also works if you start looking for the good things that can come out of a bad situation.  {This is my equivalent of playing Pollyanna's Glad Game.}

The bad situation this morning was pretty obvious.

It wasn't even 6am.
It was raining.
How long would I have to sit here before it was an appropriate hour to ask a neighbor to buzz me in?

{And inside, there was coffee and a journal waiting for me.  In the split second before I realized I'd left my keys inside, I'd been thinking about how I would skip my tennis class this morning and instead make French press coffee and do some writing.}

Plus, I had a pug with me. The pug was, in fact, the whole reason I was outside at 5:30.  Keyless.

My parents have loaned me their little pug for the week.  Lena charms all my friends, who seem to want to come over more frequently when she's around.  We go on lots of walks.  She and I hang out in my reading nook—she sitting on my lap, me reading.  I let her sleep on my bed last night, and she curled up in the nook my knees make.

And then this morning, I let her hang out in the foyer of my building.  Something new for her!

I tried to pretend—for the pug's sake—that this was just part of our crazy morning routine.  Lena is a nervous little pug, and I didn't want her getting worked up over my mistake.  When she gets worked up, she snorts a lot, and I knew that an echo of pug snorts filling the foyer wasn't going to help me think of a way out of this situation.

{Look, I gave you a picture earlier than promised!  Under promise and over-deliver, that's my motto.  
Although in this case, I just didn't do what I said I would.}

Because of course I tried to think of a way out, besides just sitting there, waiting for one of my neighbors to wake up.

Sitting and waiting is never the most obvious solution to me—makes me feel like I'm not trying very hard, and aren't all problems solved by trying very, very hard?

This morning, I came up with a few pretty great ideas for getting inside.

  I could climb the tree by my balcony.  It's some sort of pine, if that helps you imagine how easy it would be to climb—all those branches sticking straight out, making a ladder for me.  What I couldn't figure out is how I would get from the tree to the balcony, a good 8 feet.

I saw myself climbing to the end of one of the branches.  It'd bend under my weight, then flick me up and over the railing.  I could even add in a flip.  Then I remembered that I don't live in a cartoon world and the tree branch would not act as my springboard.  It also most certainly would not make that boing sound when it launched me.

  I could climb my neighbor Chris' balcony.  His balcony is actually scaleable.  But then I was left with the problem of being on his balcony and not wanting to be the creepy neighbor who shows up on your balcony at 5:30, dripping wet from climbing your balcony in the rain.  Balcony climbing is really only appropriate in Verona and if your name is Romeo.

I could climb the foyer wall.  My building's foyer is three stories high, but one of the inside walls only goes partway up.  Then it opens to the staircase and has a railing.  All I would need to do is climb the wall, just to where I could reach the railing.  Then, using my massive arm strength, I'd pull my body up and over the railing.  I'd be home free.

Unfortunately {but fortunately when you think of it from a general safety perspective}, there are no good footholds in the foyer wall.  There are also no good places to grip.  If I were Spider-Man, this wouldn't be a problem, but then again, if I were Spider-Man, I probably wouldn't be in this situation, sitting in a foyer with a pug on a rainy morning in the Chicago suburbs.

So those were all my options, and let's face it, none of them were very practical.  They involved me being a cartoon, creepy, and a superhero.

Little Lena had crawled in my lap as I imagined all this.  She was sitting so happily and contentedly, as if it were perfectly normal to go out for an early morning potty break and then spend some quality time hanging out in a foyer.

I hugged her, and she licked my glasses.  It was a beautiful moment.

Maybe the lesson that God was trying to teach me was that I need to slow down and sit happily and contentedly for a little while.

My schedule is usually so crammed full—of good things!—that it's a challenge for me to know what to do with the empty spaces.  I fill those with productivity:  cleaning, laundry, journalling, writing cards to friends.  But it's very rare for me just sit.

This morning, I just sat with a still-sleepy pug on my lap.

I prayed for whatever came to mind:  for a good friend who just left on a road trip, for my teacher friends wrapping up the school year, for my non-teacher friends who aren't wrapping up the year, for my nieces, for my parents.

I said a little thankful prayer for this time to sit quietly and for all the other good stuff in my life.

And then I heard movement in one of the apartments.  Lena heard it, too, and got a bit snorty, which made it hard to figure out which apartment it was coming from.

I left her inside, looking a little confused {a common look for a pug with their buggy eyes}, and I went out in the rain to see if anyone had their lights on.

There, out on his balcony, was Hal, tending to his plants.  Hal and his wife, Jackie, who live above me, helped me the other time I locked myself out of my building {only one other time!}.

I called up to him, “Good morning!  I've been very silly and locked myself and my little pug out of the building.  Could you please buzz me in?”

I heard his wife from the kitchen:  “Oh, honey, that's okay!  We all do that sometimes!  And look at you out there without your rain slicker on!”  I was, in fact, in a white t-shirt and shorts.  Not the best rain gear.

I thanked them, went into the foyer, and picked up Lena, who likes to be held like a baby, cradled on your hip.

The security door buzzed, and in we went, to some French press coffee for me and a bowl of dog food for my happy, contented little pug.

 {Lena when my parents first got her a few years ago.  
She's meeting the older pug, Solomon, for the first time.
I dare you to name one thing you don't like about pugs 
after reading this story and seeing these pictures.}


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