28 December 2012

turns out i can still do a back handspring {or, in which i try to recapture my childhood}




Every year, I do a back handspring {just making it under the wire this year}. You know, just to make sure I still have it.

Turns out at 31, I still do—not as pretty as it once was {I'm no Gabby Douglas}, but I'm just happy I didn't seriously injure myself and that I got to tumble in my old gym {the YWCA, hence all the basketball noise from the court next door}.



Feeling inspired after this, I tried to do a kip on the bars—it's this swingy around thing that was my mount in my bars routine when I competed. By my description of "swingy around thing," you'd never guess that I taught gymnastics for eight years, would you?

My description of cartwheels when I was teaching small children was: "It's like your legs are rainbows, and they're arching through the sky." That might've been too poetic for them, and it is shocking that children ever learned anything from me.

But back to the bars—the uneven bars, that is, not back to the drinking bars.

I tried to do a kip and failed miserably, realized that I must've had frighteningly strong abs and arms when I was 12, wondered where all that strength went to, pondered reinstating my strength workout from when I was on the gymnastics team, and then decided to accept that my body can no longer do everything it once did.

But at least it can still do a back handspring. For those few seconds of flipping rapidly, I can feel like a kid again.

PS There is obviously no video of me failing to do a kip.


24 December 2012

my parents' house is too smart for me




I'm back at my parents' house in Iowa for Christmas, and the only thing I can operate with ease here is the light switch in my bedroom. It is exactly the same as when I was in high school—down to the fish lightplate I bought one year in the Caribbean {complete with a hook where I would hang my keys after coming home from a night of play practice or teaching gymnastics or cheerleading for the football team}.

Most everything else in the house, though, leaves me slightly perplexed, especially the TV. My parents are both at work today {Merry Christmas, Scrooge, eh?}, and I thought, after doing my reading from the Advent book I've used this year and after journalling, that it might be nice to watch some Designing Women.

And that is the specific show I thought of. I was remembering how, back when I was in middle school, Lifetime {is their tagline still "Television for Women"?} showed back-to-back episodes of Designing Women at 10am on weekdays. During the summer, I sometimes/all the time planned my day around watching Julia Sugarbaker eloquently, loudly, and intelligently put someone in their place.

Lifetime couldn't possibly have changed their schedule, I thought, demonstrating a form of the hope we're supposed to embody in this season. After all, it's only been...20 years.

Oh my word, TWENTY YEARS {that deserves a spelled-out number, mostly for how far I've come from the little girl in pink plastic glasses who took solace in the fact that Julia Sugarbaker also wore big glasses sometimes}.

This morning, I found the remote, which sits on a recharging station when it's not in use, and I hit power. It wasn't the TV that came on but the remote itself—a touchscreen of options.

I paused for just a moment, perhaps waiting for it to say, "What do you want to do today, Kamiah?" It would, quite obviously, speak with a Hannibal Lecter-type voice: like it knows too much abut you and is judging you for how much Lifetime you watch.

The remote gave me three options:
  • Listen to the Radio
  • Watch a DVD
  • Watch TV
"You're not so tricky, are you, remote? I think I shall call you Siberia, because that is also remote." Siberia the Remote did not care for my joke, but rolled its eyes at me as I flipped through the guide, looking for Julia Sugarbaker {but really, aren't we all looking for her?}.

The 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street was on—of course it was. It has been playing non-stop since, I believe, just after the last bite of the last pumpkin pie in America was taken on Thanksgiving Day. It may have even cheated and started before Thanksgiving, justifying its holiday bleed by pointing out that it starts with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

There was a Star Trek marathon on SyFy—a branding so divorced from its science fiction roots. What's wrong with owning your nerdiness {wonders the girl in the pink plastic glasses}?

I could've watched The Real Housewives of Almost Every Major City in America, but it's a source of pride that I have never seen any of those, and Christmas is not the time to tear down your pride. Unless, I guess, it's in the "He humbled himself and became one of us" kind of way. Then it's okay.

So many options, but none of them Designing Women.

"Siberia, find me Designing Women," I said, wondering if this remote might work like Siri on the iPhone. It would find Julia for me, and then it would tell me that I'd grow up to be Julia. {I don't have an iPhone, so my understanding of how Siri works/compliments you may be wrong.}

Siberia the Remote did nothing.

Lazy remote. Good for nothing.

Really, I decided it was good for nothing: I hit the power button—it was Julia or nothing—and the TV turned off but not the sound.

I looked at the remote: shouldn't the screen have changed to new options? Something like:
  • Turn Off TV
  • Turn Off TV and Sound {You wouldn't think we'd need to say this, but we like to make it more complicated than it needs to be.}
  • Try Watching a DVD Instead Since Lifetime Changed Their Schedule
  • Switch to Christmas Music. Why haven't you been listening to more "Holly Jolly Christmas"? Is it because you're Anglican now and all into Advent and therefore believe that you shouldn't listen to Christmas music until Christmas Eve?
  • Just Give Up and Read a Book. Old-fashioned entertainment and such. Later, you can make a popcorn garland for your Christmas tree because you're clearly not 21st century enough to understand the TV.
But it offered me nothing, and loud car commercials continued to echo in the house, no matter how many times I hit the power button.

"Hurry in now for our year-end pricing! You don't want to miss this! Surprise a loved one with a new car! We even have giant bows for you to wrap it in!"

"Shut up, shut up, shut up! Who makes giant purchases without consulting their loved ones? You are promoting a dangerous idea!" I yelled, hitting power over and over.

I paused.

Yelling at the noise-noise-noise-noise at this time of year never works. The Grinch learned that, and it would do me well to remember it every year.

We can get overwhelmed by the clang of consumerism and commercialism.

The "Buy this now! It's new!" is so enticing, but it can also make your soul feel like it's being crowded out. You want to—if you're me—yell at everything to slow down, quiet down, and maybe even lay down.

What I really need to do, though, is slow down, quiet down, and maybe even lay down myself.

I remembered that this morning, trying to work my parents' TV. I found the mute button, hit it, and resolved to ask my dad how to use the TV when he got home from work.

And in the meantime, I turned up the fireplace {at least their gas fireplace isn't too smart for me}, called the pugs over to me {there are four at their house right now, including my one Little Pug}, and sat in the quiet.


19 December 2012

so many little things to enjoy




"Learn to enjoy the little things—there are so many of them."

My Kids Thot-a-Day calendar told me this yesterday, and it's been sitting with me, as the simplest things often do.

I don't think, if I may be so self-congratulatory, that I need to learn this lesson. Little things and the enjoyment of them are a specialty of mine, but sometimes I forget that, as I often do with the simplest things.

You know how it is: a work project, say, doesn't go quite right, and you can feel frustration, annoyance, and tiredness rising up in you. What had been a small, peaceful stream, a babbling brook, is suddenly under a flash flood warning because somewhere far away from you, it rained.

This flood is out of your control, and you can start to feel out of control yourself {because, well, you are—not in control, that is}.

All that rises, a rushing river of Big Things, and your quiet glade of Little Pleasures is destroyed.

Like a character from Little House on the Prairie or from Little Women or from some other diminutive book, you had plans of simply reading by the stream all day. You were going to bring a picnic, but now—now, argh and grrr and other guttural utterances of frustration and disappointment.

Then, hiding in the trees, perhaps, in the glade—high up out of reach of the flood—is a bird with this reminder: Learn to enjoy the little things—there are so many of them.

A flood will dissipate. A frustration will become less acute. A tiredness will be sated.

And then, I'm sorry to say, they will come again. But in the midst of flood, frustration, and tiredness, there are always so many little things to enjoy.

Such as {my own little list for the moment}:
  • how my Little Pug curls up in front of the space heater whenever I turn it on. She sits so close I do worry that she'll burn up her fur, but she seems content and cozy for the moment.
  • Christmas lights
  • walks in the strangely balmy December weather
  • stovetop popcorn with melted butter
  • really, anything with butter
  • reading in bed
  • giving a friend a homemade present and having her squeal in delight

So many little things to enjoy.

It sounds trite, I know—like something more fitting come out of Marmee March's mouth than my own. But right now, on this almost-the-longest-day-of-the-year early morning, it sounds right coming out of my pen.

And now I have to ask: what are the little things you enjoy?

14 December 2012

have mercy upon us




I had such funny things to say today. Such lighthearted things, such witty snippets of sarcasm.

I was going to talk about how whenever I hear the fiscal cliff mentioned on NPR now, I immediately switch to either Christmas music, Les Mis, or this radio station I've found that seems to have re-discovered the playlist to every high school dance I went to.

Belting out "One Day More" is a better use of my time than listening to soundbites of Speaker Boehner and President Obama say that the other guy is the one dragging down the country.

"His proposal isn't even serious."

"The American people won't put up with this."

On and on they go, talking about the American people as if they have called every one of us and and know us by name and are planning on spending Christmas with us.

I was going to talk about how childish they seem, as if Washington were just an extension of Never Neverland.

I was going to say that their "am not, are too" finger pointing looks out of place on the steps of the Capitol; it belongs on the steps of a school, in those moments just before the bell rings and the little kids are trying to get in the last word in a taunting match that started on the bus.

I was going to tell them to grow up and then came this news that 20 children in Connecticut will never grow up.

There has been another mass shooting, and what a travesty it is that I can say that: another mass shooting.

Another opportunity to struggle to find words that don't sound empty and trite.

Another opportunity to immediately picture every child I know in the same circumstance.

Another opportunity to think: What would make a person do this?

Another opportunity to listen to the 2nd Amendment / gun control / why does this happen so often in America debate.

In the fading late-fall light outside my window, I can see a world where everything looks so normal. Cars are passing; people are on their way to Target or Kohl's to shop.

I am hundreds of miles from Connecticut, but still I think—as I always think after something so jarring as this happens—that the world should look different.

What do I want? For the lights to go out? For the cars to stop? For the errands to be ignored? For everyone to stop working for a day and say, "You know, there are so many more important things than this right now"?

Our broken, fallen world fractures a bit more every day—and especially so on days like today. We're reminded that we live in a world where nothing is sure and where evil seeps in to even the sweetest spaces.

I think what I'm looking for—as I try to process how the world can be one way in the morning and another way an hour later because someone walked into a school—is a way to recognize our brokenness, and the only way I know how to do that is by saying:

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.













11 December 2012

december {a poem, not by me}




It has been a week of—no, a month of—to-do lists and tasks.

The checkmark mentality has so overtaken me that even when I try to write easy, light emails—the kind where you say, "Hi, dear friend, I miss you. When can we see each other? Please say it's soon."—I want to write it in bullet points.
I would so love to see you soon, and here are some times I have available:
  • Saturday morning at 9:30
  • Sunday before church
  • next Monday night from 7:30 to 8:30
And I was thinking that we could:
  • take a walk {weather dependent}
  • drink coffee
  • drink hot cocoa
  • drink coffee and hot cocoa together {and maybe put some sort of alcohol in it because that's just the kind of day/week/month it's been, the kind where you want all your desires in one cup}
But none of that sounds very friendly, does it? It sounds like I'm trying to cram my friends into my planner, squeeze them down to size, and then check them off my list.

Of course that's not what I mean, but I cannot seem to make my brain stop its to-do list format.

Until.

Until I remember that poetry always does it.

Poetry always brings me back from the edge where I thought, just for a second, that if I could just get everything down on paper, it'd be all right. If I could just categorize it all under headings and subheadings and especially if arrows were involved—well, then, it would all work out.

Poetry, though, is what reminds me that not everything has to be structured and not everything will work out as I want it to when I make my to-do list in the morning.

Poetry is what reminds me that it's all right—it's more than all right—even when nothing works out as I thought it would.

So today I found a poem about Christmas carols and Christmas decorations. It's about how even in the midst of all this shiny, happy holiday stuff, we still need to do the chores; we still need to take the garbage out and shovel the walk.

You can get bogged down in those details of life {at any time of year, you can get bogged down}, or you can choose to see the glint of beauty in the blend of the chaos, the chores, the normalcy, the lights.

And for right now, reading this poem and writing down a few words about it, my mind has stopped its to-do list. That's all I wanted.



December
Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels singing overhead? Hark.




05 December 2012

christmas decorating tips




Should it fall to you to bring Christmas cheer to your office—much like Will Ferrell in Elf—I have several suggestions for you.

  1. Hum, whistle, or full-out sing Christmas carols at any time. This is especially helpful if you're in a choir, as I am; it's extra practice time, and it's like an advertisement for your Christmas concert.

    You could say to a co-worker, "You know those same three bars of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' that I've been humming during meetings and when we pass each other in the hallway? Come to my Christmas concert, and you can hear those three bars plus a lot more bars." They will quickly ask when and where.
  2. Make sure you have wine during Christmas decorating. People will be less annoyed that you've put "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on repeat if you give them wine.
  3. Leave a Santa hat around the office, kind of like Elf on the Shelf. Convince people that Santa has sent his brain, protected by his hat, to see if they're being naughty or nice. Tell them that if they wear the hat, they'll finally understand how Santa makes it around the entire world in one night. As a bonus, they will also instantly know all of Mrs. Claus' recipes for the best Christmas treats.
  4. Immediately run to the kitchen whenever a new holiday gift basket is delivered from a vendor/client/friend. Tear into it like...a kid on Christmas. The phrase makes so much sense here.
Finally—and so important that it can't even be in the numbered list with all the other suggestions—make a fireplace out of construction paper. Ideally, you would do this one night while watching Christmas episodes of all your favorite TV shows.

When you bring in the fireplace the next day, spend a long time detailing the plots of those shows to your co-workers.

If you want, you can model your fireplace after mine. I made it last night while watching Designing Women—not a Christmas episode, unfortunately, so I hope I still have enough Christmas cheer to make it through.


Yes, those are framed pictures of Downton Abbey characters. If their pictures are on our fireplace, then we can pretend we live there. Or that we're friends with the Crawley family, and soon, they'll be sending us a holiday gift basket. I hope it has wine in it.












29 November 2012

if only i were in Little Women: thoughts on cross-stitching




"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."

Amy says that in Little Women, and perhaps because I've been re-reading that here and there, I've had a hankering to cross-stitch. {Meg would probably admonish me for saying "hankering," since it sounds so slangish and colloquial.}

This cross-stitch desire has only been intensified by how I'm also re-reading Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, when staying for several days at Netherfield while Jane is recovering from a severe cold—
Sidenote: Do you ever wish you lived in the time where you came down with a cold and it was perfectly acceptable to lay in your bed all day, maybe even for several days? A person got a headache and down in the drawing room, everyone else was all, "Oh my, shall she ever recover? Shall we take her tea? Have the pillows been fluffed? Can she have a clear broth?"

And then they rang the bell and somebody would take it up to them.

I'm suspecting what is most appealing in this scenario is the part where someone brings me stuff in bed.

I don't actually want to live in the time when medical knowledge involved leeches and bleeding out the sickness; I'd rather just have a lady's maid who brings me stuff. Maybe somebody from Downton Abbey could pop over.

So back to my point: While Elizabeth is staying at Netherfield, she, at times, takes up her needlework. She then has very witty conversations with Mr. Darcy that make him smile as he turns away {lest he betray his true feelings by, gasp, smiling at her}.

You can see the obvious link between Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth and her doing needlework, and with an example like that, who wouldn't want to go buy embroidery floss right now?

No, seriously, who wants to go? Get in the car, and we'll meet at Hobby Lobby. I'm sure that's exactly like the store where Elizabeth went in Meryton to buy her thread to do her Darcy-attracting needlework at Netherfield.

Before we go, I'll research Little Women and Jane Austen cross-stitch patterns so that we know what we're buying. I'm sure that somewhere on Etsy, someone has made a pattern for that storm quote, and maybe it's on special today since it is Louisa May Alcott's birthday.

But wait.

{I'm going to Internet shout; prepare yourself.}

LOOK AT WHAT I FOUND.


I may love Pride and Prejudice and I may love the BBC production of the story, but never, under any circumstances, do I want something like this in my home.

Also, it would take me approximately 17 years to complete, and don't you think there's something accusatory in Darcy's eyes? It's like he's saying to you, "I'm a classic character from British literature and this is what you turn me into? Why couldn't you have gone for the much more mundane and obvious choice like the one below?"


I bet those eyes of Darcy follow you wherever you go in the room, and that has made up my mind: a Little Women cross-stitch project is the only way to go.



28 November 2012

how to avoid tripping over Nativity sets




I left on my Christmas tree lights overnight, and I can hear in my head a paraphrase of that line from A Christmas Story: "Careful, kid, you'll burn your house down."

Will I? Well, that's a risk I'm willing to take it it means that I can emerge from my bedroom at 5:15, slippers scuffling on the floor, and immediately be in the glow of the Christmas tree.

When you live alone, as I do, you get used to doing things your own way—you get used to certain routines and having total control of your space.

This has its advantages, of course, this having rooms of one's own, including this: I haven't quite finished with my Christmas decorating yet {perhaps I should just let my pug have more mulled wine and see if she can finish up the decorating}, so the storage bins are still out in the living room.

Martha Stewart would be appalled, and Real Simple would look away in embarrassment.
Didn't we show you how simple it was to make your own decorations using nothing but shoeboxes, twine, and berries?

And didn't we say you could decorate every nook and cranny in an afternoon, filling your home with whimsical surprises of Christmas, all while following our time-saving tips?

A small wreath made from spray-painted foam balls on the bedroom door, Mason jars filled with peppermints on the bookshelf, etc.: These were the decorations we inspired you with.

How did you not learn that a real Real Simple devotee would've done all this, had the storage bins {labelled, of course!} put away, and moved on to packaging hostess gifts for those inevitable holiday parties?

If we haven't turned you into the kind of woman that makes other people say, "I don't know how she does it" by now, then that's not our fault.

Um, I may have some misplaced rage toward Real Simple. I'll work on that later.

Right now, I will say: my Christmas storage bins are still out, and I'm all right with that.

Leaving the Christmas tree lights on all night was actually part of my master plan to avoid tripping over them this morning.

Coming out into a Christmas glow of a morning is one thing; the fact that that glow keeps me from tripping over a Nativity set is a bonus I'll pretend I planned for.





27 November 2012

never give a pug mulled wine




Last night, I decorated my Christmas tree while drinking mulled wine. The Mary Tyler Moore Show Christmas episode was on in the background. It's from Season 1—"Christmas and the Hard-luck Kid II"—and a couple of years ago, I decided to make watching it while decorating a tradition. {You can read about that and my other Christmas traditions here, should you be interested / want to follow-up with me to see if I actually did these this year.} Mary gets just as excited about Christmas as I do: the lights! the tree! the wrapping paper! the tradition!

Mary Richards is always prone to talking in exclamation points, but that's especailly evident in the Christmas episode. Her desk at the WJM Newsroom has a Santa and eight tiny reindeer on it; she loves Christmas and all its trappings. As she dances along to "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" in the Christmas episode, I swayed, too, as I twisted red ribbon around the tree and hung ornaments on every branch {practically}.


Who wouldn't want to work here?

My little pug stared warily at me last night. She had done her 12 very tight circles on top of a pillow before laying down and made sure she was facing the tree and me when she finally settled down.

She let out a pug sigh—those squished in noses make for delightfully emphatic-sounding sighs. It sounds a bit like she's simultaneously snoring and letting go of all the world's cares, as if she's been carrying the burden of the Middle East and credit downgrades and the effects of global warming and now finally, finally, she can relax and just be herself.

As I sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with Mary, Little Pug looked concerned that I was either going to decorate her next or replace her with the tree. It's a charmingly enticing thought—a pug with twinkle lights on her—but I took another sip of mulled wine and sat down with her in the chair.

Even though she's a very compact pug, she took up approximately 90% of the chair, and I was forced to sort of contort my body around her.

"Little Pug, it's just a little Christmas cheer. A few extra lights, a tree in the house, a wreath on the door so it smells like we live in a forest." I scratched her behind her ears. "Look how happy Mary is for Christmas! I know it's chaotic right now"—I looked at the storage bins scattered around the living room with lights and Nativity figures climbing out of them—"but it'll all be worth it, just you wait."

I idly petted her {reassurance through touch works for so many things} as I considered where to hang the Advent calendar. By the entry? Replace the K hanging in the dining room? {Another not-so-subtle homage to Mary Tyler Moore} Where would it be best?

And then into my Christmas reverie came the strangest of noises: very sloppy slurping. I looked down and the pug was practically up to her neck in my mug. Her flat face was pressed as far as she could get it into the mulled wine, and she was making her own Christmas cheer.


Photo op of a pug in a mug re-created this morning. She was rather disappointed when she figured out that there wasn't more mulled wine in that mug and that I'd tricked her for my blogging pleasure. But really, who wants to drink mulled wine at 7:30am, even when you're competing with Mary Richards for Person Most in Love with Christmas?

"Little Pug, no! You can't drink! You can't be a drunk pug during Christmas decorating—at the office holiday party, sure, but not in front of Mary and the Christmas tree!"

She pulled her face out, and I'm pretty sure she smiled. The whole sad pug sighing about the Middle East had been an elaborate ruse, I think, to get mulled wine.

I laughed as she licked her nose, trying to get every last drop, and I decided then to adapt my Christmas decorating tradition: Mary, mulled wine, and a drunk pug.

What could be more festive?




20 November 2012

i've got plenty to be thankful for





If I could, I would make a quilt out of tradition and sit under it all winter.

This plan is dependent on me being able to quilt, which I can't do, and it's also dependent on being able to take intangible but comforting things and make them into fabric, which sounds like something Rumpelstiltskin would be peddling.

Of course I'm thinking about tradition as we approach Thanksgiving, that very traditional holiday where most of us eat the same thing at the same time, a feat that doesn't happen on many other days.

With other holidays, there's leeway in the menu: some people eat ham at Christmas, for example, while others might go for Christmas goose. My family has never done that, but doesn't it sound like something that would happen in Little Women—if, I guess, they hadn't been so poor and given away their scant Christmas dinner to an even-poorer family so that the girls {and their readers for generations to come} could learn generosity?

The Fourth of July might involve hot dogs or hamburgers or, if you're in Morning Sun, Iowa, with me, pulled pork sandwiches and a lot of potato salad.

Thanksgiving, though: it's hard to mess with Thanksgiving, as evidenced by this conversation with my mom.

Me, the Ever-helpful Daughter: Hey, do you want me to make anything for Thanksgiving this year? I could bring home my recipe book.

Mama, She Who Has Hosted Thanksgiving Forever: No, I think we're all set. Just so you know, though, we aren't having the creamed corn this year.

Me, the Rooted-in-Tradition Daughter: [Long, long pause] What do you mean? I don't understand. We're from Iowa. Isn't there a law that says we have to eat corn?

Mama, Who Probably Should've Mentioned This to Me Earlier: Your aunt wants to bring cauliflower gratin.

Me, the Doubter: Is this because of the drought affecting the corn crop? I just watched that new Ken Burns documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl, and so I'm in tune with these agricultural disasters. Is there not enough corn to feed us all?

Mama, Who, After Almost 31 Years Should've Figured Out I'm Not Good with Last Minute Change: Of course there's enough corn. We just thought we'd try something new.

Me, Trying to Change the Subject: Speaking of things that are new, FDR's New Deal brought in a lot of change that helped mitigate the effects of the Dust Bowl. Can we talk about major government programs now instead of how you want to step on the face of Thanksgiving tradition? That's like stepping on the face of a pilgrim, fyi.

Oh, I do like my tradition, but the thing is, I also like cauliflower gratin. The Barefoot Contessa has a very good recipe for it that I've made several times, and hey, it involves cheese. Most things are better with either cheese, bacon, or chocolate added to it—sometimes all three {but certainly not in the case of cauliflower}.

This corn-less Thanksgiving will still be Thanksgiving, I know, and I do have plenty to be thankful for—a phrase that makes me think of Bing Crosby and Holiday Inn and another Thanksgiving tradition.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would march {oh, yes, we were band nerds} in the Lighted Holiday Parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I have many pictures of me in a band uniform {with very square shoulders: the shoulder pads in that thing were impressive}, wearing a Santa Claus hat, holding my flugle, and getting ready to step off down Jefferson Street playing a jazzy {yet marchable} version of "The Little Drummer Boy."

{And no, I don't plan on going to the work of scanning any of those pictures and then posting them. No need for that to be seen.}

Afterwards, we'd all eat Christmas cookies and watch Holiday Inn at my friend Sara's house. It was the beginning of Christmas, as we'd warm up with hot cocoa and sing along with Bing. It was normal and cozy and the kind of Saturday night activity that band nerds are prone to do.

Perhaps to get over the lack of corn, I should watch Holiday Inn this year. At the very least, I should watch the "I've Got Plenty to Be Thanksful For" clip from the Thanksgiving part of the movie.

You should watch it, too: here's a link.

---------------

And bonus connection to talking about FDR and the New Deal earlier in an attempt to change the subject with my mother {it's below the line so you're not required to read this history fact if you don't want to learn something awesome}: You'll see at the beginning of this clip, there's a little cartoon turkey who moves back and forth between two Thursdays in November.

That's because in 1939, FDR moved Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday in November—not the last Thursday as it had been since Abraham Lincoln set it. And as we all know, you do not mess with anything Abraham Lincoln did.

He did it to give more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—the country was still pulling out of the Depression, you know, and the more time for shopping, the better. Incidentally, that phrase was also in the running to replace the E Pluribus Unum slogan for America: The more time for shopping, the better.

People got upset. Really upset. That FDR, he thought he could do anything, even change holidays. What was next? Christmas in July?

Since the states also have some power in these United States of ours, some states decided to reject FDR's Thanksgiving Proclamation and can you imagine the confusion? When do you get off work? What if your family was in a different state? What would the pilgrims think?

Seriously, this was a serious issue, and it went on for a couple of years—until Congress passed a law that Thanksgiving would always be the fourth Thursday in November.

I know that our current Congress has really important things to be doing {STOP holding press conferences about how you're looking forward to a bipartisan solution to the fiscal cliff and fix the dang cliff}, but I would appreciate it if they would, at some point soon, pass a law saying that creamed corn will always be served at Iowa Thanksgivings.










19 November 2012

i saw the light




And now here we are, a couple of weeks after the time change, and every year, it feels like I will never get used to leaving work in the dark.

The sun was sinking down at 4:15 when I looked up from my computer. Across the way—across the busy road—the sun was highlighting the big brick buildings that make up the county complex. The court's in there, as is the place you can go for early voting. A friend who's since moved away used to work in the county complex, helping low-income people pay for their utilities {and oh, how I wish she were still here and still working there, just across the busy road from my office}.

It's a useful place, the county complex, but it's not a beautiful place. It's where you go to get things done.

But at 4:15 this afternoon when I looked up from my computer, those buildings were blazing softly in the sunset, if things can be said to blaze softly.

When I close my eyes, I can so easily conjure up other "blazing softly" moments:

the Mississippi on a summer's night

sunflower fields out the window of a French bed and breakfast, one that my friend Amie and I stumbled upon as we drove through southern France

the old stone church I used to walk past on my way home from class in Kingston-upon-Thames


In all of those, what I was seeing was already beautiful, but it was made more beautiful by the gently fading light. The light going out in a blaze of glory.

But this afternoon, I was looking at the very dull county buildings, and I was seeing them in a new way.

I think we all, from time to time, need to see the old and the known in a new way. We need to not feel so engrained in our patterns and dug into what we know.

We need, in a way, the time change to show us our world in a different light—and to show us that change and transition comes with perks, too, even if it seems frightening and unknown and depressing at first.

Friends move away.

Relationships ebb and flow.

Your job grows.

You get a dog.

You get married.

You have a baby.

You move.

All these changes can come at us so fast, it feels like, but there will come a time, when you're in the midst of change, that you'll look up from just trying to get through the day—and you'll see the world in a new light.

You will.






07 November 2012

a non-political post {mostly}




Campaign signs the day after an election are like pumpkins the day after Thanksgiving: they look out of place.

The season has past, but there they remain, reminders of what came before, even as the world pushes on to the Next Big Thing.

In the case of Thanksgiving, it's Christmas, although let's face it, stores start putting out their Christmas decorations in what, October? I was at Hobby Lobby over the weekend, and all of their fall decorations were 50% off, as if the crispness was already out of the air and all the leaves were but distant memories of raking.

Heck, even some of their Christmas decorations were 50% off, and I half-expected to turn a corner and run into Valentine's Day.

So Thanksgiving already has become a bit of a jump-over holiday anyway, but by the day after Thanksgiving, we're all just over it. We're ready for candy canes and eggnog lattes and little elves. {I feel this so strongly that I even wrote about it before, this belief that by the day after Thanksgiving, the world should be all Christmas-y.}

Sidenote of a business plan: Invent multi-holiday decorations. Like a pumpkin in a parka. Or a scarecrow dressed like Santa. Then someone could decorate for Hallow-thanks-mas in early October and be good until after Christmas.

Sidenote on the sidenote: That's a horrendous idea, especially coming from someone who gets so excited by the thrill of each season. But don't you bet that somewhere, in a SkyMall most likely high above us on a cross-country flight, someone has already marketed this?

It's the same thing with campaign signs: up until Tuesday, they were bold declarations.

Statements in the yard, along with the pumpkins and scarecrows.

They were the hope of victory and a fervent wish for a better tomorrow {or at the very least, a tomorrow that didn't involve so many political ads and flyer and blood-pressure-raising debates}.

And then the election happened and now, the day after, those campaign signs are reminders that we're still a very divided nation.

It's not that I expected the election to sew us all together—oh no, I don't imagine that we are some literal version of Betsy Ross' first American flag that can be put together stitch by stitch {or swing state by swing state?}.

But this morning on NPR, there was talk of President Obama's victory speech and of Governor Romney's concession speech. There were interviews with elated people in Chicago and bewildered people in Boston.

The country took a moment to breathe—and then, we moved on the Next Big Thing: the fiscal cliff.

And I was reminded that we still don't agree on how to fix that looming problem. {I like how I say "we," as if I had an important role to play in this. I did my part when I stood in line at 6:10 on Tuesday morning to vote, surrounded by my neighbors in the lobby of the library—and accepted an "I Voted" sticker from a very enthusiastic poll worker. She was quite obviously a morning person.}

That Republican versus Democrat bickering so represented by the bold campaign signs in people's yard: that's what made me feel that the signs were out of place this morning.

The bickering must be done and we must move on, lest we all tumble together over the cliff.

Oh, sure, there's plenty of talk of bipartisanship, but have you noticed that a lot of it—from both sides—comes with a twinge of, "We're certainly ready to do this, so long as those other guys are. We've always been willing to meet in the middle."

Oh, really?

I want to say that to all politicians and then make them sit down and watch news reels {do news reels still exist?} of their speeches during the debt ceiling crisis and the Super Committee silliness.

I want to say to them, "Didn't your mother teach you to not lie? Don't say always when you know it's not true."

I was thinking all these things while on a walk this morning, and then I came upon this sign that did not look out of place:

The flag.

A little hope that God will be with us.

And you probably can't see this very well, but there's an "I Voted" sticker on that sign: a tangible reminder that we can all take part in this democracy.

This sign calmed me this morning and reminded me that even as we face the Next Big Thing, we can take comfort knowing that we'll face it together.



05 November 2012

to peel an apple




A challenge on a Saturday afternoon: to peel six apples for an apple crisp.

Somewhere, I'm sure, there is a machine or even a little tool for making apple peeling easier {dare I say "more appealing"?}.

We live in an age of specialized kitchen gadgets, some of them with no particular name, even. There's that plastic thing to help you poach an egg—what is that called?

Or there's an avocado slicer or an asparagus peeler or a thingamajig to make it easier to peel garlic.

To step into a kitchen store now is to step into a world where even your unknown needs are taken care of, if only you could find space for all these things in your cupboards.

But when you get down to it, what you need for cooking is what we've always had: heat, water, your hands, a spoon, and a knife. The rest is just bonus, a way to make the task easier, or, in the case of some kitchen gadgets of today, a way to make even an easy task more expensive.

I have to apple peeler, but I have a small, sharp knife and a competitive spirit.

Both of these are essential: the knife, of course, but the competitive spirit to keep this repetitive task interesting. Can I get all the skin off in one long, twirling peel?

Is this something I should be aspiring to?

I say: but of course. In practicing this skill, I get to make many apple crisps and apple crumbles and apple pies and apple tarts. To eat well of the fall's harvest—now that is an aspiration.




01 November 2012

the stars, a pipe, and the election




The first thing to notice was, of course, the stars.

At 5:30am, they were crystal clear against the black sky, even out here in the suburbs where you would think we would produce enough light pollution to block out such clarity.

But there they were, and as I walked to my car, I couldn't help but think of George HW Bush with his thousand points of light.

I did not want to be thinking of former Bush Presidents—Bush 1 or Bush 2—at 5:30 in the morning, although if I'm honest, I don't want to think about any Presidents at this time right now.

Mostly, at this time right now, I want the election to be over. I want it to be November 7th, and I want these campaign stops and swing states and accusations to be over. It all seems to have been going on for years, as if we've been trapped in a surrealist painting and the world is not what we think it is.

Like this famous one by Magritte, which boldly declares that this image of a pipe is not, in fact, a pipe:

We're told every day, "When I said this, what I actually meant was that."

This is not a pipe.

"And it may seem like the economy is recovering, but not if you look at this report from a different angle."

This is not a pipe.

"The polls may show him in the lead, but not if you take into account people who took two years of French at the high school level but then in college, decided to pick up German."

This is not a pipe.

And on and on it goes, and I want, yes, it to be November 7th, but then I might miss more early mornings like this when I saw the stars, the thousand points of light, and felt that anything is possible, anything, in a world that has a view like that one.






30 October 2012

thither and felicity: talk like Jane Austen day






It's Talk Like Jane Austen Day, according to Twitter—and if only I had known before noon today. So many missed opportunities for Jane-ness! I could've demanded someone bring me tea in bed or made the guys at the front desk of the gym call me Miss Walker early this morning.

{However, if I were true to my Jane Austen-ness today, I probably wouldn't have gone swimming. Even my very practical one piece would be rather shocking, although perhaps if I called my swim cap my "bonnet," I could've gotten by.}

There's a website devoted to Talk Like Jane Austen Day. You can see it here, but I would like to warn you that it's not the prettiest of sites and it includes this gem: "All tolled, Jane Austen published four novels in her lifetime..." as if her novels were part of the Illinois Tollway and you need an iPass to get from here to there.

So, praytell, how does one talk like Jane Austen?

For starters, work in the word praytell wherever you can.

Also, use one a lot. Whenever you would say you, you should say "one," even if leads to awkward constructions/social moments.

For example, when offering someone coffee, ask, "Does one take cream or sugar?" This will make the person feel like 1) you maybe can't remember their name and you're disguising it by being so formal, 2) you were raised by the Queen of England, 3) you don't like them very much—certainly not enough to call them "you."

To increase the social awkwardness, one might want to ask about how much money one "has" every year. It's basically asking for their salary so that you can judge them worthy of your company at the ball you're both attending.

That's the other thing: if you really want this Talk Like Jane Austen Day to be a success, you might want to attend a ball. Then you can say, "To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love." People will be impressed that you're quoting Pride and Prejudice, but do watch who you say this to. Imagine if one said it to someone one didn't care for very much: it could give the wrong impression.

{Bonus Jane Austen fact: The original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions.}

Or you could watch this clip from You've Got Mail where Kathleen Kelly {Meg Ryan} tries to convince Joe Fox {Tom Hanks} to read Pride and Prejudice, which she has read about 200 times.

{And which I re-read every year, making it easy for me to offer these very helpful Jane Austen tips.}



Thither.
Mischance.
Felicity.


Work all three of those into conversation tonight, and you will officially be a Jane-ite and part of the club. We meet quarterly and wearing an empire waist dress is not required.



26 October 2012

french enough for me




A few weeks ago—no, over a month ago now—when I was in Quebec, I picked up a French book at the airport. This may have been a desperate attempt to keep my French self happy as I left a cobblestoned, francophone area, headed back to the suburbs and the dare-I-say-it harsh tone of our wide-mouthed American English.

{If you disagree with me on this harsh tone point, please just watch any period piece from England and tell me if you don't wish you had a mellifluous accent like that.*}

I found a book by Philippe Delerm and snatched it up immediately, as if there weren't 10 other copies. Philippe is one of the French writers I can understand without too much thinking. He is, I mean to say, a writer I can read as if he were writing in English, and when I read his books, I sometimes have to stop to think: OMG, I might be bilingual. {If I'm really immersed, that might even come out in French.}

But really, it's Philippe Delerm bilingual, but I'm okay with that. I live in the middle of America and go to French-speaking areas, on average, once every year. In other words, my French brain doesn't get much use, although I'm forever telling myself that I should watch more French movies or read more French books or join a French conversation group.

That doesn't happen, though, when I get caught up in my very English life here, and so I use Philippe Delerm to make my French self feel better: At least you can still read this, I tell myself.

The thing about Philippe Delerm {besides that he's from Normandy, where I used to live} is that he writes in French about stuff I like to write about in English: brief snatches of every day life. Little descriptions of how the sun played off the roof on a walk. What the first sip of a coffee is like.

We are surrounded by insignificant-seeming moments, but Philippe Delerm shows them to us and gives them a glow of great significance. That's what I try to do in {some of} my writing and maybe that's why I can understand him so easily: we speak the same language, of a sort.

My new book by him is Le trottoir au soleil: The Sidewalk in the Sun.

Just listen to this:
On arrive là en fin d’après-midi, on fait une grande balade autour des champs qui encerclent le hameau. Le soleil commence à fléchir quand on revient vers la voiture. Il y a une petite terrasse de café. On ne resiste pas au plaisir de s’y installer. […]

La lumière est en vous aussi. Chaque seconde qui passe vous rive advantage à ce miracle. Un soir d’été. Comment partir?

Beautiful, n'est-ce pas?



*My gosh, I am so classist, but I'm trying to hide it in a footnote. When I watch English shows—Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or of course Downton Abbey—I wish for the mellifluous accent of the upper classes. I would also like someone to bring me tea in bed every morning, but I would be demanding/unusual and request coffee. I would also be unpredictable and sometimes want it from a French press and sometimes from an Italian press.






25 October 2012

for darkness shows the stars: a new take on jane austen




I swung by the library last night after work to pick up a new book.

At home, I am surrounded by books, and in case you can't tell from that widget over there on the right {scroll down: see the one called "Also, I Heart Reading"? Yeah, that's what you need to be looking at}, I'm almost always reading multiple books at once.

Stacked around my apartment in odd places—no, let's not call them odd. Let's call them quirkily surprising places. Let's call them proof that I love reading; surely I must if there is a stack of books on top of my microwave.

And on that tiered lamp from Target; one of the other shelves is currently holding nesting dolls from Russia {well-travelled and literate and a stacker!}.

And by my fruit bowl.

I am surrounded by books wherever I go, and so it's always surprising when I find myself uninspired with my selection. I have—literally but not in a hoarder kind of way—stacks of books to choose from. Books that at one moment I found interesting enough to buy but that, at this moment, aren't meeting my reading need.

I read multiple books at once to fulfill multiple reading needs. I like non-fiction for the weekends and travelling, when I have more time to read.

I like literary prose for the early mornings, when I do my best writing.

And I like engaging stories for bedtime, and that was what I was missing. I was trying to read literary prose {Dearly Beloved, a stream-of-consciousness novel by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—yes, that Lindbergh—that makes me think of my beloved Katherine Mansfield} at bedtime, and instead of calming me and transitioning me into sleep, it somehow made my dreams fantastical and memorable and I woke up more than I usually do.

No, that wouldn't do at all, so I swung by the library last night to pick up For Darkness Shows the Stars, a young adult book set in a dystopian future.

Nothing says "will not give you fantastical dreams" like "dystopian future," eh?
Oh, but it's more than a dystopian future: it's a re-imagining of Jane Austen's Persuasion in that dystopia.

Last year at this time, I re-read Persuasion {you can read about it here}, so maybe this is just my Persuasion season. Maybe next year, I can read a utopian future re-telling of it.

But for now, I hope in this For Darkness Shows the Stars, I get:
  • discussions of how many pounds a year a man has: Unless this dystopia has no money and therefore no way to judge a man by how much he's worth.
  • a silly, overdramatic scene that takes place on the pier in Lyme Regis: If you've read Persuasion, you'll know that there's a pivotal scene involving some jumping that is too precipitate, poor communication, and an unfortunate hitting of the head on the pier. I think in this re-telling, Lyme Regis should still exist—it should represent some indestructible part of society, and it should be the only place left to have fun, even though, in the movie version of Persuasion at least, it looks like a wet, windswept, unfun place to be.
  • a letter written by the Wentworth character that makes the rest of the story worth it: As I wrote about last year, I will read 234 pages of that story, just to get to the point where Wentworth passionately declares his love—in a letter. {Um, sorry if you've never read the book. I probably should've said: SPOILER ALERT.} In this dystopian future, I will accept a hologram communique {you know, like in Star Wars} as the form of this letter.



12 October 2012

on the corner of 8th Avenue and Possibility




On the corner of 8th Avenue and Possibility, a girl sits on a bench.

Oh, she knows that there's no such street as Possibility, but that is how she's come to think of this corner.

From here, the Possibilities are—well, as innumerable as the people flowing past on this Manhattan evening.

She comes here most Wednesday evenings, just to sit and watch, although she supposed that'll change when winter comes.

Already, she has her scarf wrapped tight against the October breeze, but maybe her Wednesday evening tradition won't have to change, she says to herself. With the right warm clothes and a hot cocoa to look forward to, she could still come here to take in the Possibilities.

She hasn't lived in New York City very long—a few months—and it wasn't long after she moved here from Mishawaka, Indiana {"What a name!" people always say, as if she might've invented it} that she started coming to this corner.

It started quite by accident one Wednesday after work: she had a pebble stuck in her shoe. She was in her heels and always worried about catching the heel in a grate on the sidewalk, but here she was with a pebble.

And so she sat down on this bench on 8th Avenue to get it out. Annoyance gone, she looked up and suddenly realized how tired she was.

It had been a long day {up by 5am!} and sitting, just for a moment, made her feel that her day had been full of pebbles, little annoyances, and that she'd spent all day pulling them out of the metaphorical shoe.

But sitting down, she could slow down.

She could take in the world marching past on the gridded streets of New York City, and that day, she actually said out loud—before she could stop herself—"It's a sea of humanity, it really is."

What a true and obvious thing to say, she had thought then, and watched all the people with all their lives.

Tourists: always looking up, as if they've never seen a building more than three stories high.

Couples on their way to a Broadway show, both of them dressed up.

Other workerbees making their way home, perhaps just as tired as she was.

Babies in strollers.

Men dropping the restaurant garbage bags on the corner.

Homeless people with their McDonald's cups out, jingling for spare change.

A sea of humanity and a world of possibilities.

That day, as she looked down the street at the hot dog man {just $2 for a meal! This is living!}

and as she looked kitty-corner at the fancy ice cream place {artisanal is probably the better word}

and as she was bathed in an orange glow like a Technicolor dream from the digital billboard across the street,

she had decided to come here every Wednesday evening to remember that the world is bigger than small pebbles and little annoyances. It's bigger than a desk job and buying new shoes and the day-to-day life we can get so focused on and it's even bigger than Broadway.

There are Possibilities all around us, if only we'd sit down to take them in, as she does every Wednesday evening on that bench on 8th Avenue.



11 October 2012

sometimes {a poem, not by me}




Seeing this tree in fall glory every day {or nearly every day—I'm in New Jersey today, so I'm missing it} makes me feel...that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. {Fall always brings out the Anne Shirley in me.}

Or in other words: it makes me feel what this poem says. Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse.

A red tree on a blue day reminds you of that.



Sometimes
Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you





08 October 2012

find your fall rhythm





"Find your fall rhythm."

This is part of the Starbucks fall ad campaign, and the poster I saw this morning had a woman wearing a creamy, dreamy cardigan, haloed by golden autumnal sunshine, and smiling beatifically—presumably because she was thinking about a pumpkin spice latte.

Starbucks gives suggestions for your fall rhythm: leaping into leaf piles and screaming at the sidelines, but aren't those more high notes than rhythm?

Those are the things that make fall so enticing, so iconic, so memorable&dmash;but they can't be part of your everyday rhythm, the beat alternately pushing and pulling you along.

Leaping into a leaf pile every day would mean:
  • you'd need rake leaves every day, or
  • you'd need to closely monitor your neighbors for their raking habits—sneaking in to jump in their pile just when they look up to appreciate the color play between the red leaves still on the tree and the blue sky
  • you'd eventually reach a point when you see a pile of leaves and want to run screaming from it. Too much of a good thing.
  • Also, you may end up with leaves in your hair a lot. The wood sprite look, you know.
A fall rhythm is for finding a groove—not a rut but a beat for walking through your day, and you can't find a beat if you're randomly jumping into leaf piles.

It's about buckling down for work and feeling proud when the job is done and done well, an idea that must be in our DNA from generations of harvest time. To see the sheaves of wheat in a field at sunset: that is a fall rhythm, and with the first brisk morning, we are drawn to it.

And if that first time you see your breath again in the early morning doesn't make you think of wheat, it might make you think of school. You may have been out of school for years—longer than you were even in it—but come mid-September, you may feel a need to buy every college-ruled notebook you see at Target.

You may yearn to draw up a schedule for the day, one that beings with free reading time in your homeroom {No, seriously, why can't we begin every work day with that?}.

Perhaps you want to pick up a textbook, cover it with an old grocery bag, and then, finally, really get straight what the Stamp Act meant.

A fall rhythm is about order and closure.

But paradoxically: it's also about disorder and beginning.

The leaves fall chaotically, and we make plans for winter projects, many of them involving a facet of self-improvement.

I will cook one new recipe a week.

I will swim twice a week.

I will read Dickens and Austen.

That sort of self-improvement thing: as the world becomes a stripped down version of itself, we want to build ourselves up, perhaps yearning to fill out all the gaps nature is leaving behind in color, warmth, and growth.

So you see, fall's rhythm is confused and always changing temp; by its very nature—its very weather—fall keeps us guessing.

As much as it makes us long for stability, it's, of course, a transition season, and you never feel that more than in the early morning as you're trying to figure out what to wear.

It may be 39 degrees out at the moment, but you know that by mid-day, it'll be in the upper 60s or even 70s. How to prepare for this? How to dress?

This is why, I believe, the fleece vest was invented. It is the epitome of the transition clothing and helps keep one part of you warm while letting another part breathe easy. You are ready for cold and warm at the same time, plus you look outdoorsy and like you might take a hike at any moment, maybe over to the Starbucks, where you will order a pumpkin spice latte and think: Fall, can you please stay forever?



04 October 2012

on the absurdity of the debates





I watched the Presidential Debate last night, and I wanted to throw something at the TV only a handful of times.

Given my record of yelling in my car during political commentary {most memorably at the Not-So-Super Committee}, I think I should be rewarded for this.

I turned it off before Jim Lehrer could ask his third question {so...that'd be over an hour in to the debate}, and this morning on my run, I kicked through the fall leaves and thought about how I would improve the debates.

Just so you know, when given the choice of working out your aggression by kicking leaves or kicking the TV, choose the leaves.

Kicking leaves is a much more useful/fun way to channel frustration at a debate full of:
  • blah blah blah rhetoric from both sides
  • a moderator who said approximately 17 words the whole time
  • snippets of sentences that you immediately knew would become soundbites {OMG, Romney hates PBS. A vote for him is a vote against Downton Abbey! Vote for Obama if you ever want to see the Dowager Countess ever again!}
Here is what I came up with on my run, based partly on this really terrible idea I had about the Olympics in August.

I decided, as I watched the Parade of Nations, that we—as in the world—should use the Olympics as a way to solve conflicts.

That is: North Korea and America have some, shall we say, ideological differences and general hostility toward each other. Before the Olympics begin, they pick a sport they're both competing in and say, "Okay, whoever wins this game is declared the winner of whatever conflict we have going on. The other country has to accept defeat, and we all move on. End of war/aggression/conflict/whatever."

Same deal for Greece and any country in the Euro Zone. If Greece wins, out go the austerity measures, and the Germans have to swoop in with loads of money and everybody drinks embarrassing amounts of ouzo.

There are so many things wrong with this plan, I know, which is why I said it was really terrible. But it does have a certain "clear the air on the field of sport" charm to it, kind of like something that might take place at Eton.

Which brings me to my plan for the debates. The next two debates will be replaced by a three-sport competition between Romney and Obama.

First Sport: Basketball {clear Obama advantage}
Second Sport: Polo or Rowing or maybe Cricket {whatever sport Romney is good at}
Third Sport: Carrying an Egg on a Spoon while Running Down a Hill, Followed by a Three-legged Race with Their VP {need to get Ryan and Biden in there somewhere and we all need a little lighthearted relief these days. Watching men in suits in a three-legged race might do the trick.}


Anne and Diana in their three-legged race in Anne of Green Gables. The candidates may want to study up on their strategy.

And the winner of those contests will be declared the winner of the debates, and the pundits can analyze performance for days on end. ESPN can be brought in for expert commentary.

Give me a few days/a few more runs while kicking leaves and I just may come up with a similar plan for deciding the whole election.





fall song {a poem, not by me}






On a cool, bright morning like this—a morning after a day of rain—I want nothing more than to write a poem.

But.

There is the dog to be walked and breakfast to be eaten and work to be done.

So I turn to Mary Oliver, that quiet poet of hushed beauty, that writer who can whisper the profound and make you feel like truth has seeped into every corner of your soul.

A morning like this, when there is no time for my own poetry but there is still time for Poetry: this is when Mary Oliver comes in handy.

Fall Song
Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.


03 October 2012

a picture a day keeps fall here to stay



That's true, right? That a picture a day keep fall here to stay?

If I can document the color, then it never has to fade. Let's pretend that is true, and look at this tree I pass every day on my walk with Little Pug.


It is fall. It is brilliant, even on a gray day like today. It is what I want to remember from this time, even as I notice day by day that it's changing and we're marching ever closer to winter.

In fact, I think I will take a picture every day of this tree: to help me pay attention.

{As a bonus, this will also probably confuse Little Pug: Why do you stop here every day? She will ask me that with her eyes, and I will tell her stories about fall. I'm sure she'll appreciate my rhapsodizing about colors when all she wants to do is go on a walk.}


02 October 2012

promises, promises





It was one of those work days where chocolate was necessary, and so around lunchtime, someone ran over to Target and came back with Dove Dark Chocolate Promises.

Now, I have a complicated history with Dove Dark Chocolate Promises {it involves a pug, Dr. Zhivago, Christmas chocolates, and a lesson that chocolate really is toxic to dogs—and it's quite obviously a sad story}, but I am never one to turn away chocolate.

Nor am I one to just have a piece or two, and so I found myself with a handful of Promises back at my desk.

{As a sidenote, "handful of promises" sounds like something that could be cross-stitched with a Bible verse and then hung above the mantel. It also sounds like the potential title of a book, one that's most likely about hard times in a marriage. Oh my, I think I need more chocolate.}

Having now sampled quite an array of these Promises, I can safely say: Dove, you make terrible Promises. I mean, the chocolate is great—just right, in fact.

And I know it's great because did you know that I have this random condition called geographic tongue that causes my tongue to react to certain triggers? {Trust me, this is related. Also, trust me, I'm not just making this condition up. Here, read this thing from PubMed about it.}

One of my triggers is good dark chocolate, so I can always tell the quality of chocolate based on the reaction of my tongue {it just gets a little inflamed and discolored}. My tongue is akin to the creaky knee that tells you when it's going to rain, only knowing it's going to rain isn't nearly as deliciously useful as being able to tell the quality of chocolate.

So, Dove, your chocolate is good, but your Promises are...well, first of all, most of them aren't even promises.

They're more like thought-provoking conglomerations of hmmm.

Here's a sampling of what Dove promised me today:
  • Don't settle for a spark...light a fire instead. This is what, I imagine, everyone who's ever set a forest fire has thought. Also, people who burn books like in Farenheit 451. Encouraging pyromania does not make a good promise.
  • Feel free to be yourself. Okay, piece of chocolate, I will. But this sounds more like something Oprah would devote a whole show to, back when she still had a show.
  • Chocolate brings good things to life. I'm guessing this was actually supposed to be in your marketing campaign for the fourth quarter, and it somehow ended up in the file that was sent to the printer who does all your foil wrappers.
  • Satisfy your sense of surprise. I assume you're encouraging me to hide behind trees and jump out at passers-by while yelling, "GOTCHA!" I don't know if that will bring me satisfaction, but you did tell me earlier to feel free to be myself, so if this is what the real me wants to do, I am free to do it.
  • There's a time to compromise. It's called "later." Wait, are you saying we should never compromise? That we should procrastinate on compromise? That we should be stubborn?

    This is right up there with that famous line from Love Story: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." If we all followed that advice and this "Promise," we'd have a stubborn, unrepentant, demanding society on our hands. In other words, we'd all be like Kim Jong-il, and I don't think that's what anyone—least of all Dove—wants.
In conclusion, I will not be quitting my day job to write Promises for Dove—partly because at this day job, I can eat all the Promises I want and make fun of them. If I worked there, I probably wouldn't be able to eat the moneymaker {who else is having visions of Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy shoving bon bons in their mouths?}.

Or, on the flip side, I would be allowed to eat all the chocolate I want, and my geographic tongue would be all I would talk about.

In any event, Dove, if you believed in compromises, I would offer this to you: I will eat your Promises, and I will only laugh at one per chocolate-eating session. But since you believe compromises are for later, I offer that our deal start tomorrow.

01 October 2012

a second spring




My mother sent me an email today to tell me that she'd thought I'd like this quote:
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
Albert Camus said that, the great French existentialist.

How beautiful and how relatable, which isn't something I often associate with existentialism.

I more associate it with the glib phrase: my existential crisis, that panic that often hits in the mid-twenties when you're trying to figure out who you are and pay your bills on time and make new friends in an unknown place and realize that your paycheck is the only gold star you're going to get.

Who am I? What am I doing here? How did I become someone who works in a cubicle?

The questions come pounding in, and you freak out.

That is the existential crisis, and you get through it—partly by doing things like noticing that every day has something good in it, something to be thankful for, something worth paying attention to.

Right now, it's the fall leaves. Every one of them is a flower, and I plan on noticing them this year, don't you?



26 September 2012

on the virtues of bowl food




It is past 2pm, and I have just sat down to eat lunch. Because I've just come home from a trip, my pantry is rather bare, and my meals have taken on an eccentric flair.

Honey Nut Cheerios, followed by handfuls of candy corn and peanuts.

Toasted English muffin and potato chips.

So many variations of grilled cheese.

But for lunch at work, I ran out of options when I ran out of peanut butter yesterday, and so here I am at Boston Market with a Market Bowl in front of me.

This is the obvious and only possible end to my dearth of food: to reach a point where I am so hungry for something of value that I—literally—order all my comfort foods and have them presented to me in a bowl.

Chicken.
Mashed potatoes.
Corn.
Gravy.

Yes.

Perhaps you've seen a commercial for this and thought: WHO would eat that? Isn't it just like those KFC Bowls* but maybe—MAYBE—healthier because it uses rotisserie chicken and not fried chicken {that may or may not actually be chicken}?

I am here to say to you: I would eat that.

I once was like you, disdaining the Bowl that's advertised as "Eat Anytime, Anywhere," which, when you think about it, pretty much sums up the root of America's obesity epidemic.


But then—so many good stories hinge on a game-changer phrase like that—but then, I was faced with a lunch of:
  • an egg cooked in a microwave
  • grape-flavored popcorn {Why is that even made? Why is it in my office? It's basically popcorn covered in grape Kool-aid powder, no joke.}
  • or the Market Bowl
Technically, no, those weren't my only options. I suppose at Boston Market, I could've gotten a chicken pot pie, but as soon as I pulled in to the parking lot and saw the big sign for "Eat Anytime, Anywhere," I thought, in a mangled, Liz Lemon way: I want to eat to there.

And now I have; I have had a Market Bowl, and I am here to say: It is a good idea. It is comfort all mixed together, and it's like 75,000% better than grape popcorn.

Also, I'm most definitely going to the grocery store on the way home. Please hold me accountable to this/to not eating another Market Bowl tomorrow. Thanks.

* I should point out that I have, in fact, eaten a KFC Bowl. Okay, more than one. Maybe like five. Also, I tried the KFC Double Down—the sandwich where the bread is replaced with fried chicken and there's bacon in the middle. Here ends my bad-for-you-food disclosures. Unless you want to hear about my love of hot dogs.

Oh, who am I kidding? We all knew I'd eventually try this Market Bowl. It was made for me, in the way that peanut butter was made for chocolate {and if the peanut butter-chocolate mix was then deep-fat fried, then it was really made for me}.

25 September 2012

the midas touch of early fall





It is past 6pm when you emerge from the office building, having stayed later than you intended, and now the sun is giving everything a golden look. The Midas touch of early fall.

You had heard all day how beautiful, how matchless it was outside—from the co-worker who went out at lunch to an old high school friend who went on a run along Lake Michigan on her day off and decided to post it on Facebook, this fact that she had been out when the day was perfect.

But you were at your desk all day, facing a window and imagining what it must be like outside, but inside all the same with eyes glazing over in that digital look. You were working on a spreadsheet and working toward this very moment when you would step from the building and into the Midas light.

Here it is now—you turning to gold along with the trees and the stop sign and the road home. There are no impurities in this gold, just a 24-karat gleam to the end of a day that hadn't felt significant until this moment.




23 September 2012

quebec in pictures






Place Royale on an early morning run: It got that name when they installed the bust of Louis XIV there. It apparently wasn't enough for him to have Versailles and to be called the Sun King; he also needed this square—considered the cradle of French civilization in North America—to be named after him.


Samuel de Champlain saying to Quebec, "I totally discovered you and claimed you for France. Why is Queen Elizabeth on your money now?"

He's probably also, from his perch on that plinth, thinking: What, the governor's house I built back in 1620 on this ground high above the St-Lawrence River wasn't good enough for you? You had to build the Chateau Frontenac, a fancy hotel, here instead?


Un bol de cafe au lait, s'il vous plait: Coffee in a bowl. I'm going to start offering this to people when they come over for coffee: Would you like an espresso, a Waffle House mug, or this bowl from Ikea?

In France, you can have cafe au lait in a bowl with breakfast—the better for dunking your bread and jam in, you see. But here in Quebec, I discovered you can get it any time, even with lunch, and they won't look at you funny. Bonus points for Quebec.


The only fortified city left in North America: Quebec has also left its cannons out and pointed in various directions. They are ready, should anyone ever try to take them back from the British.

Unless it's themselves: there is a separatist movement here in Quebec, much like how some people in Texas would like to secede from the United States. I'd say if the Quebecois want to be their own country, they can all just hole up in the fortified city, drinking their bowls of cafe au lait, and putting those cannons to good use.

Problem with my plan and why I'm not in charge of countries: The cannons don't work any more, there are no longer doors on any of the gates into the city, and even though the French had the high position and the fortifications, the British still beat them on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.


I would most definitely go to church there, assuming it's an Anglican church, which is a big assumption here in what was once the seat of a Catholic diocese that stretched all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Actually, there is an Anglican church in Quebec—Holy Trinity. It was the first Anglican church built outside of the British Isles, and did you know that it has a section set aside specifically for members of the British Royal Family? No one else can ever sit there, which makes it even more exclusive than the Royal Box at Wimbledon.


Un autre bol de cafe au lait: This one at brunch at Le Clocher Penche in the St-Roch neighborhood. I'm reading the book The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik, and should you ever want to really enjoy eating alone {as I often have to do on work trips like this one}, bring that book.

You can read about the glorious social history of the restaurant and the recipe, all while eating. It will make you appreciate where you are, not feel like the odd (wo)man out in a restaurant of people enjoying conversation and each other.

Later, when you're back with people and you don't have to eat alone, you can dazzle them with trivia about what the French Revolution has to do with the restaurant.


Le Sang des Saints: My meal at Le Clocher Penche, and fyi, that translates to "the blood of the saints." It was boudin noir, a poached egg, pears, and caramelized red onions served over naan with a balsamic reduction. If I purposely forget that "boudin noir" is blood sausage and if I purposely forget how it's made, I love it so much. It makes being forgetful worth it.


The most photographed hotel in the world: That's what they say about the Chateau Frontenac, so I thought I'd add another picture to the count.




20 September 2012

quebec: so french and yet






Quebec City truly is a slice of France in North America, although there are these—almost jarring reminders that I'm not actually in France.

I can be walking down a cobblestone alley and it seems so much like I'm back in France, from the just-washed streets in the early morning to the sidewalks that never seem to give enough room for two people to pass each other.

And then I can turn a corner and run into a shop selling hockey jerseys or even football jerseys: this is not France, I have to tell myself. Not France, not France, not France. Repeating it helps me remember.

Seriously. Outdoor cafe. Flowers. Cobblestones. How is this not France?

Plus, the cars are all wrong for this to be France; French cars are smaller, and of course there's the whole different makes/models thing. Here, it's all the same cars as in America on streets that look very French.

This morning on my run, I passed a Jeep Liberty, a Ford F-250, and a Land Rover. Where are the Opels and Renaults? How does an F-250 navigate the back alleys? Not France, not France, not France.

Also on my run this morning, I saw the Chateau Frontenac and plotted ways to move there permanently. This is a diverting way to spend a run when you're doing more hills than you, a person who lives in Illinois, has seen in awhile.

I go back to France every other year or so and the French part of me gets to come out. That's the part that knows what it feels like to have my powers of language stripped down. It's the part that feels triumphant for making it through small talk and the part that knows that if you need help, you have to ask for it, even if you don't know how to say it.

The French part of me knows that loneliness will hurt but it won't destroy you.

And my French side is, in some ways, my writer side because I did so much of it when I lived there—perhaps a by-product of having lost my main form of communication.

That simultaneous feeling of panic {what if I can't get the words out?}, triumph {I did!}, and a need to document it all {what a world we live in!} is something I very much associate with France because that's where I was the foreigner and that's where I tried to make a life, if only for a little while.

To come to Quebec, then—where it looks so much like France and where they do, indeed, speak French {with an accent, although I, of course, also speak French with an accent}—but to have so many things double-signed in English and to hear English so frequently...well, it feels a little topsy-turvy to my French self.

It feels like I've stepped into a blend of France and home—but maybe that's a good place to be.

Chez Temporel: where I had dinner tonight. There was quiche, red wine, chocolate cake, and espresso. I chit-chatted with the people sitting next to me, and they complimented my French, saying I sounded more French than American in my accent. I then asked to be their best friend/if they could call my friends in France and repeat that.





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