31 May 2012

a may morning made march

Overnight, it became cool again: a May morning made March. {Such alliteration!}

People who sleep with their windows open woke up burrowed into the covers. As their feet hit the hardwood floor, they gasped in, a sharp intake, a shocked intake—where were their slippers?

The floor was ice; they must have their slippers.

Whoever thought they'd need slippers to keep them cozy against floors of ice on the last day of May?

The gray day makes everyone think of November. Yes, that's it exactly: today is a November day, the gray kind that makes us appreciate the golden sun, bright blue sky days of October more—in retrospect. It's always more in retrospect; when will we appreciate more in regular-spect?

This is no time to think of that now, that deep and pressing question digging in to your side like that jab you sometimes get when you run too fast.

This is no time to think of how you could be appreciating every day more; the floor is cold, you've found your slippers, and your armchair by the window is ready for you.

29 May 2012

america by the front door {a poem}

It was 7:30 on a Monday morning, and I'd run 6 miles and walked the dog and then not gotten ready for work: it was Memorial Day, and so I was on the balcony drinking coffee and writing.

Memorial Day, and I was writing about the American flag without even realizing it. I mean, of course I knew what I was writing; I'm not one of those writers who can say, "The words just flowed with barely any input from me" and not feel like a fraud. I was aware that I was writing about the flag, but I was halfway through this poem before I thought: Oh, how significant for today, to write about America and the flag and such. Good job, patriotic self.

But here's the deal: the finished poem doesn't feel very patriotic, which is a funny thing for me, the girl who often cries at "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," to say.

You could very easily go all pretentious English major on this poem and start interpreting the symbolism—and then extrapolate it to how I feel about America now. You could so easily do that: No, really, try it.

What would be your most hoity-toity literary interpretation of this poem?

Here's how to go about this:
  • Pretend to be a literary critic. Or an English professor. Or hearken back to your college days and remember how deep you used to try to sound in literature class. {Don't deny it; we all thought we were deeper than we really were, and we tried to showcase it in interpretations of Wordsworth.}
  • Consider affecting a British accent in your review, which would be even more hilarious, given that I'm writing about America, and we long ago told them no, thank you. And by "told them," I mean, "fought a war with them as a way of telling them that we didn't want to eat Marmite and that while we're thankful for BBC miniseries, they can pretty much keep everything else."
  • Tell me how I feel about America. Or how you feel about America. Or whatever interpretation comes to mind. That's the point of literary interpretation, isn't it? That you can basically make it up as you go along?
  • Awards in the form of Internet high fives will be given for the most creative interpretation.

{And then I'll tell you what I think of this poem, should you be interested in hearing that.}

America by the Front Door

Who, upon moving, left that American flag flying by the front door?
Faded old glory now of orange, cream, and violet,
it is barely a reminder of what it once was.

The stitching unravels, each stripe
whipping dejectedly in the breeze,
so the flag waves like
a bleached-blonde woman wearing a too-tight tank top
wiggling her fingers as a goodbye
to a friend she's never liked: glittery jewelry clanking
as her fingers fly in false kindness.

The house sits empty now.
The grass a forest and
the bushes grown so unruly they must be hiding something:
A secret garden or an enchanted labyrinth, maybe.

Or the truth of this little decaying graying house,
once a strong defender against the Midwestern winter—
now wholly open with its gaping holes
and its missing living room window.

Someone once sat behind that window in a rocking chair
and watched the just-hung American flag,
a bold red, white, and blue,
whipping defiantly in the breeze.

And as she waved to a passing neighbor,
the thought never crossed her mind
that one day
the flag would fade and the house,
why, it would fall,
and there'd be nothing left but
the memory of what used to be—
once when the flag was flying by the front door.

22 May 2012

to try with the pug

Really Awesome Idea to Try with Little Pug

I can wear a pretty dress.

She can row the boat.

Just-picked flowers are essential to this idea, as is that hat.

I don't know, though, if I can pull off looking so bored. I'll be ON A BOAT. WITH A PUG. AND FLOWERS.

I bet tucked under that brocaded-blanket {seriously, it looks like curtains} is a copy of a Jane Austen novel—or maybe it's "The Lady of Shalott." Maybe I could have my own Anne of Green Gables re-enactment while I read "The Lady of Shalott." You know, like here:

And then Little Pug could rescue me.

These are the kinds of things, by the way, that you think about when it's such a glorious May day outside your office window.

18 May 2012

so much in common with dick clark

At a diner in Montclair, New Jersey—well, not exactly a diner, exactly.

There was a counter, yes, and some booths, but the whole thing was more upscale than "diner" generally implies.

This was not a silver Airstream-looking establishment along the side of a highway.

The mugs were not thick-handled, and the coffee was not burnt.

No neon signs flashing remnants of Americana: Eat at Joe's.

It was a fancy diner; let's say that. They make their own gigantic marshmallows, for Pete's sake, which encapsulates this place pretty well: it's comfort food but in a way that makes you step back in surprise. And then dig in with a hunger you didn't know you had.

So at this diner, above the counter, there was a sign with a quote from Dick Clark:
My greatest asset in life was I never lost touch with hot dogs, hamburgers, going to the fair, and hanging out at the mall.

I realized, looking up at that quote, that I have a lot in common with Dick Clark, and that came as a surprise to me. He's a piece of Americana, crucial to a certain generation's childhood and then revered for years afterwards as the representative of that gentler, before-the-world-got-so-gosh-darn-fast-paced time.

And I'm just a girl who doesn't like New Year's Eve, and Dick Clark was famous for loving it. {Although he did make it cool to stay in on New Year's Eve, so maybe I owe him one.}

In that quote, though, Dick Clark hit on several of my loves.

Hot dogs: One of the tags on my blog is "hot dogs," which means that I've written about them more than once; they get their own category! I stop at a certain gas station on the way home to Iowa every time—just to get a hot dog. I'm going home next Friday, by the way, and I will be at that gas station.

The fair: My town's fair is this weekend, and no matter how old I get, I can't resist wandering by to see the lights. I love it so much I wrote a poem about it last year.

And I hope I never lose touch with those things. Conveniently enough, they often come together: you can get a hot dog or a hamburger at the fair. Or at the mall, for that matter, although that is one place I'd be fine losing touch with. Who needs to be inside when there are hot dogs and a carnival outside?

16 May 2012

biking to work {or, why i am not audrey hepburn}

It's National Bike-to-Work Week, and as I so like to do, I'm celebrating appropriately: by biking to work.

Saying that, I get an image of Audrey Hepburn biking—perhaps cycling {a much more refined, Audrey-type word} through a field of tulips. Skirt flying, big sunglasses, laughing into the wind as she speeds down the lane, careful to not let her baguette, cheese, and wine spill out of her basket.

There's the Audrey Hepburn version of cycling:

And then there's the reality of me biking to work:
  • My bike has no basket.
  • Even if my bike did have a basket, I doubt Little Pug would sit in it for very long—and she certainly wouldn't look as content as Miss Hepburn's dog with her little bow. Little Pug is an explorer and has a scrappy side to her that may compel her to jump out of the basket, just to prove that she can. Then she'd land on the front wheel and become the tumbling pug.

    That sounds like a very good beginning to a very bad children's book: The Pug Who Did Not Like Biking.
  • I don't wear a headscarf so much as a big magenta bike helmet. This replaced the old Bell bike helmet I had when I was younger, an ugly travesty of a thing that brought me much embarrassment. So much embarrassment that I wrote about my Bell helmet once.
  • My bike doesn't have an Audrey Hepburn nameplate, for obvious reasons—the most obvious being: if someone thought my bike belonged to Audrey Hepburn, they would steal it.
  • I wear bike-appropriate clothes—wait, not spandex. Don't get that idea. I just mean that I wear clothes I don't mind getting sweaty, and then I bring with me—in the backpack I carried in college—my work clothes.

    In other words, I don't have an adorable cycling outfit so much as a practical approach to the realities of sweat.
It's a 20-minute jaunt to work, and I have to admit, I feel very European as I bike through downtown Wheaton, by the cafe that opens for breakfast at 6am, and past schoolchildren.

I have to hold in the urge to sing-song "Bonjour!" to the train, the commuters, the cafe, the schoolchildren, the people out walking their dogs.

Biking to wrk can be associated with a sower, more charmed pace of life—a pace we Americans often think, in a dreamy, idealized kind of way, all Europeans have.

If only I could bike to work like the Dutch {even their Queen bikes!}, we think, then my life would be hale and hearty. I'd stop at the cafe for an espresso with friends after work, and I'd have enviable leg muscles.

And it's true: these 20-minute bookends on my day do bring a sort of charmed airiness to the workaday world.

The gravel crunching under the tires, the archway of trees over me creating patterns of sun and shade, the fresh edge of the morning air, the pulsing of my legs as I peddle fast at the Main Street railroad crossing: it all combines into a kind of intense gratefulness for the day.

Lest I get too wrapped up in this idealized version of biking to work—and then fall down the slippery slope into thinking I'm Audrey Hepburn—I've made a list of Things to Keep in Mind While Biking to Work.

Things to Keep in Mind While Biking to Work

  • You're not actually Audrey Hepburn.
  • You're also not Dutch, not even the littlest bit.
  • Seriously, just because you rented bikes in Amsterdam that one time doesn't make you a Dutch biker.
  • Drawback to biking: It's challenging to drink coffee on the way to work.
  • Another drawback: I hope you don't have to run any errands at lunch today, such as getting an oil change.
  • You are your own pack mule when it comes to bringing lunch, so consider what you'll be hungry for at noon carefully.
  • You should get a little bell to ding-ding-ding. That can be your precursor to shouting out, "ON THE LEFT!" every time you pass someone.
  • After getting to work, it takes 15ish minutes to cool down enough to feel like you're presentable enough for actual work. Keep this in mind should you have any meetings to run as soon as you get into the office.
  • I hope I never forget my brush or my deodorant while biking. I bet everyone else in the office really hopes I never forget my deodorant.
  • On days you bike to work, for the love, do not do the legs portion of your weight lifting routine. Not necessary. And later, when you have to bike home and your legs are already sore, you will be upset at your overachiever morning self that tried to be all exercise-y.
  • If you can fit in a swim and a run before you bike to work, you can start bragging about doing a triathlon every day.

This is my bike. See how it's not at all like Audrey Hepburn's? It's older than I am, actually, and at one time, belonged to my older brother. Yes, I have a boy's bike. Yes, it is slightly too large for me. Yes, once when I stopped at an intersection, I fell over because my foot didn't reach the ground very well. No, I will not demonstrate that for you.

12 May 2012

on a treasure hunt {part 4}

The date did not go well, as you read in part 3. You can cancel your plans to start saving for a trip to Iowa for my wedding, in other words.

Treasure House Man talked and talked and asked very few questions about me, which left me, 90 minutes later, with many quotes from him. Peruse below, if you'd like, and try to imagine how you'd respond. Keep in mind that your contributions to the conversation will be limited to about one sentence at a time, so try to make it count.


A Small Treasure of Quotes

I Am Not Miss Muffet
Treasure House Man did ask a few things about me, but he mostly used my answers as jumping off points for either telling a story about himself or for making the kind of comment it's hard to know how to respond to.

He asked, for example, "What's your favorite meal?

It's meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, and my mama makes it for me whenever I go home to Iowa.

His response: "Do you use homogenized milk in your mashed potatoes?"

Well. Yes. I buy my milk from the store and do not keep a cow on the balcony to milk.

I am not Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet eating her curds and whey.

The Downfall of Language and Society: Carrots
After accusing me of using corporate-speak, Treasure House Man went on a tirade about people who use verbs as nouns and how that bothers him because shifting meaning leads to the downfall of language. And as language goes, so goes society.

He said, "You see, words are what give us meaning. Without those, I could point at this" [holds up umbrella] "and call it a carrot."

And then he awkwardly laughed, looked at me expectantly, and then proceeded, throughout the rest of the night, to randomly pick up his umbrella and say, "CARROT!"

No, Really, I'm a Grown-up
He lives with his parents right now, but, as he pointed out, "I totally have my own space. I always make sure to have at least two closed doors between me and them."

He's 38, by the way, and with the two closed doors rule, I can only imagine that he's hiding out in his bedroom closet.

All Teachers Have IQs of 110
He's a certified K-12 teacher but currently unemployed. He's hoping to get back into education, but certainly will not be teaching elementary school or middle school ever again because "all the teachers there have IQs of about 110. They're idiots who don't know the systems and ideology behind what they're doing, which I do."

I would like to apologize to all my teacher friends now on his behalf. I don't think you're idiots.

May the Force Be with You
I asked him about his work at the University of New Mexico, and he said, "Have you ever been to Albuquerque? It's a wasteland. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and that place is the earth equivalent of Mos Eisley. [Insert LOOOOOOONG quote from Star Wars here.] You know?"

And the thing is, I do know: my sister and one of my brothers are huge Star Wars fans, so like the good little sister I am, I watched it a lot with them. I can picture Mos Eisley. I can get that buzz of nostalgia when I see a scene from any of the original movies.

But that doesn't mean I want to hear a chunk of the movie quoted at me, although I suppose this served as just another example of this: He is not the man I'm looking for. {Raise your hand if you got that Star Wars reference. And yes, I know I'm revealing my inner nerd.}


Was I disappointed?

Was I hoping that this date would lead to a second date and then to a third date and then to too many dates to count—until we had a wedding date?


On a rainy Saturday, this came out of the blue. He came out of the blue, complimenting me even though I wasn't feeling very pretty and reminding me that you never, ever know what will happen when you step out your front door in the morning.

You could end up with a new springform pan, a date, and a story—and all that sounds like a good day to me.

11 May 2012

on a treasure hunt {part 3}

And now we get to the actual date with Treasure House Man.

For the back story, you can read part 1 and hear how he asked me out.

Or you can read part 2 and hear how I reacted.

Or you can just read this.


Tuesday came, and I fielded the typical pre-date questions from friends who knew what was going on:
  1. Are you excited? Nervous? Both? Kind of an exci-vous, which is an odd combo of those words and probably never going to take off as other combo words, such as brunch, have?
  2. What are you wearing?

And I gave the typical answers:
  1. I'm trying to remember that it's just coffee. Just a chance to get to know someone else and see if I might like to get to know him better. Because at this point, most of what I learned about him, I learned through Google stalking.

    Oh, of course I Google stalked him. This is the back-in-the-day equivalent of asking if your friends knew anything about a guy who seemed interesting, only in this 21st century scenario, your friend is Google and you can ask anonymously.

    You can also start with only three pieces of information and end up finding someone's resume, by the way. I googled just his first name {since I didn't know his last name, too}, University of New Mexico, and metal working, and there it was, his employment history.

    That's still not a lot to go on. Even when you're interviewing someone for a job, you have more information than that—not that I think of dates as job interviews, nor do I think dating me would be a job.
  2. What to wear? I could've pulled out one of my fleece vests, just to show him that I own more clothes than a puffy vest.

    Or I could've gone straight from work: in a heels, pencil skirt, button down with a cardigan and pearls ensemble. But then it might look like I was coming to interview him—or maybe fire him—and we've already established that a date is not the same as an employment opportunity. Right.

    As it often goes with these things, I'd picked out one outfit but the weather turned and the outfit was suddenly impractical: a heavy downpour is not the moment for heels and a sleeveless top, no matter how well the top accentuates your eyes.

    Note to self: always own tops in all sleeve lengths that accentuate your eyes so that you can go into back-up wardrobe planning mode more efficiently.

    On the night of my date with Treasure House Man, back-up wardrobe planning mode looked like this:
    staring blankly at my closet
    staring frantically at my watch
    asking Little Pug what she thought I should wear
    having her stare blankly at me
    and then throwing on jeans, a button down, a cardigan, but leaving off the pearls
    and running out the door, into the rain, and on to the date.


Treasure House Man was already there, waiting at the cafe, unaware of all my Google stalking and blank staring at my closet.

Yes, still good looking, I thought. Strong jaw, dark hair, a fiery soccer player build.

It must be a leftover of my cheerleading days that I classify guys by what sport they might’ve played, and you can tell me I’m pulling some sort of mean girl classification, this trying to make everyone into jocks, but it works for me.

As did Treasure House Man’s blazer. He had on a very professorial blazer—so academic that I immediately checked his elbows to see if there were leather patches.

There weren't, but I stretched out my hand anyway to meet his, my mind jumping ahead {as it often does} to imagining the kind of library an art professor and his British literature-loving wife would have. Wood paneled, by the way, but I’ve learned to control my jumping ahead imagination by 1) telling my brain to shut up, and 2) focusing very intently on the moment.

And at the moment, Treasure House man was asking, "How are you doing tonight?"

Little did I know that that would be one of only five questions he'd ask me over the next 90 minutes.


I have been on several bad first dates.

I once had a man end a date by giving me a Victoria’s Secret coupon—saying, “Don’t be freaked out by this, but I’m sure you of all people could find something enjoyable there.”

On another date, the man told me flat out that his career had incredible earning potential so he could offer a luxurious life—telling me, “You seem very classy, so I’m sure that’s the kind of life you’re accustomed to.”

And once, the man let slip all the Google and Facebook stalking he had done of me. {Cardinal rule of Internet stalking: It’s a secret.} In one sentence, he let me know that my Facebook privacy settings were way too lax and that he had spent too much time looking: “I really enjoy the renovation your parents did of their living room, especially the orange color they chose for the accent wall.”

So yes, I have had bad first dates, but even on those, the worst parts were just small moments to laugh at later.

With Treasure House Man, it was an onslaught of moments.

It was as if I were watching a performance or being lectured to. Both the performance and the lecture would’ve been titled: “How to Overwhelm Your Date and Not Let Her Get a Word in, Edge or Other-wise.”

Turns out the Treasure House Man is a treasure trove of:
tangential stories
historical facts
movie quotes
and just your run-of-the-mill information.

And he attempted, in 90 minutes, to share it all with me.

There were moments, I will admit, when I was genuinely having a good time. When I was laughing and smiling without thinking to myself, 'Now laugh. Now smile.'

But there were other moments when I thought, 'How do I casually look at my watch? And wouldn’t it be awesome if my watch were one of those spy watches—one that records a conversation without the other person knowing? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that in Sky Mall, which seems, in part, to have a target audience of People Who Are Suspicious of Others and Want Evidence.

‘But if I could only capture some of the off-the-wall things he’s saying, then later when other people tell me I’m too quick to judge or that I need have less demanding standards, I’ll put my watch up to their ear and hit play. Sky Mall and me: we’ll show those other people why my standards are just where they need to be.’

As a general rule, when you’re on a date but thinking about Sky Mall and recording watches and proving to others that you’re right, the date is not going well.


What could he have said that was so worthy of recording? Or of trying to get him to keep talking {not a hard thing to do}, just to seem what other gems would fall from his mouth?

For a sampling of what Treasure House Man said—his treasure trove of quotables—read part 4.

09 May 2012

on a treasure hunt {part 2}

So as we learned in part 1, there was this guy who followed me from one store to another in downtown Glen Ellyn—all to tell me I'm pretty. I realize the "following me" part makes it sound slightly stalkerish, but I promise it wasn't as creepy as it potentially sounds.


Treasure House Man: So...can I have your number?
Me: My number? Really? How about you give me yours?


I like to think this was me being a modern day Elizabeth Bennet, not that she had a telephone, let alone a smart phone, but I think, given the opportunity, she would've told Mr. Darcy: "Can you call on me? No. But I'll call on you when and if I desire. POWER SHIFT. Bam."

She probably wouldn't have said bam.

Also, I may not get hit on all the time, but I know enough not to go handing out my number willy nilly. I mean, I once got propositioned in an elevator in Las Vegas; if I can make it out of that situation, I can certainly avoid giving away too much personal information in a shabby chic decorating shop in the suburbs of Chicago.

Treasure House Man: Okay, we can do it that way. Do you have a pen?
Me: Um, no.

I know: I'm a terrible writer. We're supposed to carry pens and Moleskin notebooks at all times, ready for when inspiration strikes, but I forgot, okay? I thought I was going armchair shopping with a friend, not arranging coffee dates.

Speaking of my friend, she spoke up here.

Elizabeth: I can help!

Oh, bless her. For many reasons, including that she laughs at the same things I do and loves France more than I do, but in this instance: bless her for her iPhone.

This was, actually, the first time I'd looked at Elizabeth during this entire conversation with the Treasure House Man. I was sure, as he said things like "pretty" and I said things like "robot," that if I looked at her, my eyes would grow big enough to be frightening as I tried to communicate silently: OMG, can you believe this is happening? Can you give me some sign that this is real? Do you think I should meet him for coffee? Is this bizarre or the beginning of a romantic comedy? Speaking of that, do you think there are hidden cameras around here?

We women might try to convey too much with one glance; despite the fact that we are very, very good friends, I don't think Elizabeth would've picked up on all of that. She probably would've looked back at me like this: Look at him! Not at me! What is wrong with you? Do you have something in your eye?

Treasure House Man: [Tells Elizabeth his phone number and she taps it in as a note. He looks at me the whole time.]
Me: [internal monologue] WHY IS HE STARING? Oh right, because he thinks you're pretty. Smile. Not too big. Yeah, smaller than that. Get it together, Walker.
Treasure House Man: So...it was good to meet you.
Me: Good to meet you, too.

And he walked out of the overpriced store.

Even before the door clicked shut, a woman popped her head around the corner. If Hollywood were trying to represent the perfect suburban mom in 2012—if they really wanted to make sure they got it right so that 50 years from now, people watching the movie would say, "Oh, I see what life was like back then"—they would film this woman.

Ballet flats, cropped pants, a wedding ring the size of Lake Michigan.

Not a hair was messed up, despite the fact that it was raining out and she was carrying a very trendy cloche hat: the woman can wear a hat and still have her hair look like the 2012 version of Donna Reed.

Slightly Unnervingly Perfect Glen Ellyn Mom: Oh, honey, I'm so flattered on your behalf! That was so amazing to overhear.
Me: Oh my word, I know! Can you believe it?
Slightly Unnervingly Perfect Glen Ellyn Mom: No! I mean, look at you! You aren't even dressed to be hit on!

By this, I assume she meant: You aren't even wearing a cloche hat and ballet flats, like me!

And it's true that I wasn't looking my best: I'd spent part of the morning picking up trash along the Prairie Path, the running path that goes through my town. Every year around Earth Day, there's a trash pick up day, and since I use the path so much, I like to help.

I'm so eco-friendly, but I wasn't exactly pretty clothes-friendly that day. I had on a puffy vest, people.

And a hoodie.

And tennis shoes. The tennis shoes are from France, though, I'd like to point out. At least part of me looked trendy.

I hadn't showered, I had on no make-up, and I'm pretty sure I had brushed my teeth.

Me: I know! Look at me!
Slightly Unnervingly Perfect Glen Ellyn Mom: Gosh, I'm married, but I might go next door to see what kind of compliments I can get.

You should probably leave your cloche hat here, I wanted to say. Clearly Treasure House Man is looking for someone with a less put together look.


Elizabeth and I didn't spend much longer looking at overpriced decorations.

"I need to sit down," I told her. "We need to process this, debrief this, analyze this, and we can't do that here."

That was partially because of the Unnervingly Perfect Glen Ellyn Mom—and partially because everywhere you saw to sit down {paisley armchairs, teal wingbacks, floral loveseats} was covered in tea trays and trinkets, all arranged to look as if you'd just thrown the display together in your shabby chic cottage by the sea.

A bonus lesson from the day: I am not a shabby chic person.


Elizabeth and I processed, debriefed, and analyzed in a cafe just down the street. That double shot of espresso very much calmed me down, and we came up with an action plan: I would call him the next day.

And that's just what I did—

The next day after a nap {to boost my energy because seriously, it was this gray, rainy weekend that sucked all my normal perkiness} and many pep talks {to channel that energy}, I called him, the man who perhaps was a treasure from the Treasure House.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone when your only point of reference for them is "Um, you followed me into a store in downtown Glen Ellyn and um, also, you think I'm pretty"?

It's a challenge, but he turned out to be a not-so-bad conversationalist. An excerpt from our conversation:

Treasure House Man: So, what are you up to tonight?
Me: I'm going to watch this BBC show called River Cottage with some friends. Do you know it?
Treasure House Man: I don't know that one, but I do love British shows, especially Downton Abbey.


We probably should've made plans to elope right there on the phone; preferably it would've been an elopement to England, where we could spend our honeymoon at the real Downton Abbey.


Instead, we made plans to have coffee one evening after work.

I scheduled it for just before Bible study {always smart to have a defined timeline when meeting someone for the first time}, and now you can start placing bets on whether:
  • I had such a wonderful time that I skipped small group
  • I had such a terrible time that I lied and said that small group was at 7:00, or even 6:45. No, I am not above using the Bible to get out of uncomfortable situations.
  • I had a magnificent time but still made it to small group, where I wasn't able to focus on the Gospel of Matthew because really, what's the Gospel in comparison to a guy who makes his own custom tools in the shape of robots?

I'll tell you the answer soon enough.

07 May 2012

on a treasure hunt {part 1}

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon in downtown Glen Ellyn, and my friend Elizabeth and I were wandering this resale shop called the Treasure House, picking up ugly pictures and dresses to laugh at but also looking for an armchair for my new office.

"Excuse me, please."

I turned and saw that we had somehow ended up right in the path of these guys who were trying to move a large couch. There was a matching armchair, by the way, but it didn't say "office of a literary person who happens to be a medical writer" so much as it said: "if you buy me, you should also start crocheting afghans and collecting hairless cats."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I told the worker's back and then sidestepped him, being careful to avoid hitting the display of cut crystal and someone's grandmother's wedding china.

And then I decided to buy the small springform pan I'd seen over in their kitchenware section, and I left the Treasure House thinking more of the quiches and tarts I would make than of the man I'd almost caused to drop a large pink floral couch.

Maybe I should've been thinking more of him because while Elizabeth and I were in the store next door {a laughably overpriced store where their business plan seems to be: find a mirror or whatever on the side of the road, paint it teal or rosy pink, call it shabby chic, and then charge $70 for it}, he—the great lifter of the couch himself—came in and said:

Treasure House Man: Hi, I just came to see if you were just as pretty in here as you were next door.

I will pause here to let you imagine 1) what I said in reply, and 2) what you would've said, had you been in the same situation. I like to think I'm kind of, sort of, maybe witty, but what I said was:

Me: Really!??!

Yes, really, that's what came out. For all my reading of Jane Austen, I still rarely have witty comebacks when approached like that, and let's face it: when you don't have Jane putting words in your mouth—when you are left to your own devices on a Saturday afternoon—it's rare that Elizabeth Bennet-worthy quotes come out.

Treasure House Man: Yes, really. Do you ever have coffee with college professors who volunteer at resale shops on the weekend?

How very specific. I should've said something sparkling and sharp in an attempt to recover my Elizabeth Bennet status—something like, "No, I can't say I've ever encountered this particular situation before, and how uncanny would it be to meet more than one college professor who volunteers at resale shops on the weekends and follows pretty girls from store to store?"

But I didn't say that. I chose to focus instead on the college professor part and said:

Me: Maybe. What kind of college professor would this be?

In retrospect, I think two things:

One, this need to categorize him came out of my mouth so quickly. Is there a kind of college professor I wouldn't go to coffee with—some kind that my subconscious is aware of but the rest of me isn't?

Two, this is probably the most Jane Austen part of the conversation—where I try to discern in an unsubtle way if he's my kind of people. I may as well have asked him, "And do you have an income of 50,000 pounds a year and a house in Derbyshire?"

Treasure House Man: I was a professor in New Mexico; I taught metal working. I make things like this. [Pulls keychain out of his pocket.] It's a bottle opener and [I think something else, but I can't remember/wasn't paying close enough attention because most of my brain was shouting, "HE THINKS YOU'RE PRETTY!" All I do remember clearly is that it was very shiny and shaped like a robot, leading to my next astute comment.]
Me: It looks like a robot!
Treasure House Man: Yes, that's the logo for my company. So...can I have your number?


Coming soon: Did I give him my number? Did he turn out to be a treasure from the Treasure House? Will I ever not make such obvious, socially awkward statements when someone says I'm pretty?

03 May 2012

to be given a day

Have you ever had that experience where you're doing something you've done a million times before, but it feels like the first time?

I suppose that sounds exhilarating: a novel thing every time you try.

But I'm not talking about exhilaration, sadly. I'm talking about my run this morning.

It was 6:15 and already 70 degrees. The sky was orange, and the air was thick enough to eat, creating, I guess a cotton candy-feeling world.

And it felt like I was running through cotton candy.

Or maybe that I had eaten a semi-truck full of cotton candy.

Or maybe that my shoes were made of cotton candy.

It sounds delightful to be surrounded by cotton candy—it really does because I associate cotton candy with the fair. And the fair means corndogs and funnel cakes. It means, perhaps, a parade, and if you're in a small town, it means running into everyone you know and getting to see them just as happy as you are, simply because you're at the fair.

But my run this morning did not make me happy. One foot in front of the other, and I glared at the orange sky.

Legs that should've been tree trunks—that's how rooted they felt. That's how much they didn't want to move.

I felt slow and wobbly and like I didn't want to be where I was.

Usually in my stories, this is where I'd have a sentence like: And then I turned the corner and I saw a house with an explosion of tulips outside and I realized that I was right where I needed to be.

I usually have a sentence like that because usually I can pull a reminder of beauty from even the ugliest of experiences.

But you know what? That didn't happen this morning.

No tulips.

No reminders.

No redemption of the run.

Just me returning to the gym after 30 minutes outside, sweat streaming down, stinging my eyes, feeling like I was already behind for the day.

I said this to myself this morning, and I'm going to repeat it now: You're up. You're moving. You've been outside, and the sun is there. What a thing of beauty, to be given a day.

01 May 2012

a confession and a salad

I have a confession: last week, I ate like an American. The stereotypical American, I should say.

I had just come home from a business trip to St. Louis, and as I do before many trips, I had eaten myself out of house and home, a phrase that always makes me think I should be eating drywall and brick.

Of course it just means that I ate all the perishable things: all the bananas, pears, kale, mushrooms, milk, cream, cheese, bread.

I left myself with many hardy staples: pasta, frozen chicken breasts, canned beans, frozen vegetables, and even frozen servings of this sausage and kale soup I had made when the weather was still chilly and gray.

So there was food, but it was the kind of food you have to think about. What could I eat with the pasta so that it wasn't just bland pasta? Did I want to eat the beans? Maybe rice and beans? Why did sausage and kale sound so good in March but not so good in May? What sounds good now? What do you do when nothing sounds good?

So much thinking, and there was little leftover space in my brain for thinking.

And there was little time for cooking wholesome meals. My office was in the middle of moving, so I was spending my days surrounded by packing crates and making sure I didn't misplace something very, very important, such as the permissions to publish documentation for every article ever written for our websites.

Little time for thinking.
Little time for cooking.
And the real nutrition killer: little time for grocery shopping.

All this littleness leads to my confession: last week, I ate like a stereotypical American. I ate a lot of fast food.

A Short List of Everything I Ate that Maybe I Shouldn't Have
  • gas station hot dog
  • giant slice of pizza from this little place on my drive home from work. You get a piece of pizza as big as three of my heads and a liter of pop—for $5.

    Plus, there's the added bonus of getting to feel slightly like Alice in Wonderland after she shrinks down to very tiny: everything in her world is too big.
  • BLT from Jimmy John's, except I'm not a fan of T on sandwiches. Tomatoes make the bread mushy, and I don't mind telling you that it's only a recent discovery that it's not that I dislike tomatoes in general; I really only dislike them on sandwiches. Until not so long ago, I bypassed most tomatoes {even when I lived in southern France}, which is sad, and I plan on making up for it this summer.

    So my BLT from Jimmy John's was more of a BLA—I had them put on avocado. And add extra bacon and onions, so I was really eating EBOLA. Nice.
  • pizza {yes, MORE pizza} from the Pizza Hut Express in Target. My new office is just around the corner from Target, and it may take a lot of will power to not wander its enticing aisles every day at lunch saying, "$5 movies! How can I pass up Practical Magic when it's only $5? That's just the cost of a giant pizza slice!"
  • KFC chicken strips, mashed potatoes, and baked beans. KFC is, to me, a comfort food, so please don't ruin it for me by telling me about how their chicken isn't really chicken. Sometimes, we all need a guilty pleasure, don't we?
With a list like that, it's no wonder that when I finally made it to the grocery store, all I wanted to buy was vegetables.

By last Saturday evening, my brain and schedule had cleared enough to where I was finally able to think about putting food together in a healthy, orderly fashion, not this haphazard eating of things that may or may not be chicken.

We all know not to go to the grocery store when you're hungry. I would like to add a rule:
Do not go to the grocery store when all you've eaten for the past week has come to you in a sandwich wrapper, cardboard box, or served with a spork.

If possible, find a way to get someone to invite you over for a homemade meal, preferably one involving a salad, so that your body can remember that it can, in fact, get nutrients from food.

If you don't do this, then when you're wandering the aisles of the store, some primal instinct in you will force you to put every vegetable and fruit possible in your cart.

It will be an attempt to stockpile freshness, as if your body believes there has been a vegetable apocalypse and you will be forced to eat trans fats forever and ever. Humankind will survive on giant pizza and fried chicken. It will not be pretty, so get the veggies now.

This is what happened to me: when I was at home putting my groceries away, I realized I had enough fruits and vegetables to feed a family of four for two weeks.

I'm telling you, you could make an excellent and large cornucopia display for Thanksgiving using what I bought.

However, it's not Thanksgiving and I'm not a family of four so much as one girl who lives alone with a pug, and she would be little help when it came to the fennel and other things that might rot before I get around to eating them.

So I did the next best thing to forcing my pug to eat fennel: I invited a lovely vegetarian over for dinner and made, among other things that involved many vegetables, this salad below.

As we giggled after dinner while drinking sherry {this is what sherry does to you, by the way: it makes you giggle, even though it used to be the post-dinner drink of refined ladies, which I, apparently, am not}, I was walloped with thankfulness for three things:;
  • for weeks when I don't eat well: Giving in to guilty pleasures makes the return to eating well taste that much better.
  • for giant pizza: It's so good that I thought of it even while eating asparagus.
  • for a good friend who will eat giant pizza with me and help me eat my cornucopia of vegetables: She's the kind of friend who understands that sometimes, there's little time for thinking, cooking, or shopping—and so sometimes, my hospitality looks like inviting her over and then serving her pizza or take-out Thai or grilled cheese. But she's the kind of comfortable friend everyone should have—the kind you can eat pizza with in your sweatpants and not have to worry about trying too hard.

    Then later when you have an overflow of vegetables and are overflowing with ideas of what to do with them, she's just the kind of friend who takes her first bite of asparagus and carrot salad, closes her eyes, and sighs in pleasure at the deliciousness of it. She's just the kind of friend you want to cook for and have at your table as often as possible.

Asparagus and Carrot Ribbon Salad

Serves 4

What You Need
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus {thick stalks if you can get them}
  • 2 large carrots
  • lots of kale
  • half an onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • anything else you find in your fridge that you think might taste good in here
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
For the Vinaigrette
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
What You Do
  1. Lay a stalk of asparagus on a cutting board. Starting at one end, use a vegetable peeler to peel off long ribbons of asparagus. Continue until all the stalks have been “ribboned.” This is actually a rather entertaining way to go about making asparagus.
  2. Ribbon the carrots, too. If the ribbons are quite long, you can cut them in half to make eating easier, and if you're like me and get nervous about peeling your finger—and therefore assiduously avoid the end of the asparagus/carrot—you can chop that up at the end, too, to make eating easier.
  3. Add all the vegetables together, make the vinaigrette, and drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Some freshly grated Parmesan cheese is a good idea at this point.
  4. Invite over a vegetarian and share.


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