06 November 2013

the weather's will




Heading out the door this morning, I opened my umbrella and found just that right arrangement of coffee mug, lunch bag, and umbrella that would allow me to not drop anything and yet stay dry and caffeinated. This is a feat, I feel, at 6am.

With my galoshes on and tucked in to my pants, I felt a little like a jockey. Or a British aristocrat off on a ride. Either way, there should be horses involved, obviously.

And what a rain it was! Such a November rain, the kind you fear will pull all the leaves off the trees before you truly have time to appreciated them in their pied glory. I had listened to the traffic report on NPR tell what havoc this rain was wreaking on the morning commute, and I Had thought smugly about how easy I would have it on the train this morning.

Just a little walk in the rain while feeling British and then a dry, fast jaunt on the Metra. 'I am such a smart commuter,' I thought as I leaped over a puddle in front of the library, suddenly keying in to an ongoing clanging as I did so.

The library sits next to the railroad tracks, and sitting on those railroad tracks was a stuck freight train. Every crossing in my little town had its gates down and its clanging warning going, and I could see at 6:03 this morning that unless I was a jockey on a real-live horse that could sprint the mile to the one underpass in this town, I was not going to make it to the other side of the tracks to catch my train.

At that moment, I realized it: I may feel like a British aristocrat, but I live on the wrong side of the tracks. At least for this morning.

I turned back around, no longer leaping over puddles in my galoshes, and made my way to my car, ready to join the slow-driving throngs on the road as we all bend to the weather's will again.


05 November 2013

things that might be better than a new library book




What is better than getting a new book from the library?

No, really, I'm asking. I have some thoughts about what might be better, but I'm not convinced, particularly because I just picked up a delicious book {The Girl You Left Behind}, and every day, I can't wait to crawl into bed and start reading.

{Given that I recently wrote about how much I just want to hang out in bed, ever since I put on my flannel sheets, you may be concerned that I'm spending too much time in bed and not enough time upright and going about my normal day. Fear not, though: I am upright right now, and I manage to muddle through the days, no matter how much time I spend thinking about how I'd rather be in bed with a book.}

Things That Might Be Better Than a New Library Book

  1. Maple-bacon biscuits. Any recipe that begins with "Fry the bacon until crisp. Then pour fat into a measuring cup and stick it in the freezer; you will be incorporating the solidified fat into the dough" is a recipe for me. The step where you drench the crispy bacon in maple syrup only intensifies the pleasure.
  2. Staying inside on a rainy day. But then again, this activity is only made better by having said library book that you want to devour. Imagine it: Fireplace. Wind whipping outside. The smell of a caramelized onion, Gruyere, and ham tarte filling your home. And you on the couch with your book. It is almost too perfect, isn't it?
  3. A surprise of a card in the mail from an old friend. There is nothing like being reminded of why you're friends with someone: the way she can pull out just the right words, the way she knows what to joke about in a tongue-in-cheek reference to some shared memory, the way she can convey in just a few lines just how deeply she knows you. Add to that the delight of finding something other than a bill in your mailbox, and you have a serious contender for something that is better than a new library book.
But that is where I stop.

I cannot make it any further because I am thinking of my book and my bed. And maybe, one day when I finish this book, I will tell you about why you should rush to your library and get it right now. For the moment, I will say: This book, The Girl You Left Behind, involves France, World War I, impressionism, tempting descriptions of those unforgettable French meals, and a mystery.

Now do you see why I have no time for anything but reading?


04 November 2013

l is for lunch



Recently, I've been reading books that either explicitly or implicitly remind me to slow down and appreciate the moment where I find myself.

From MFK Fisher, I've been sampling The Art of Eating, which is a book of essays on the joy of food. If there is anything to make you savor a moment, it is an essay on rich meals shared with a wealth of friends. Reading this book, you can't help but plan a dinner party in your head, one that hopefully comes off like something out of a Katharine Hepburn film.

For me, it doesn't hurt that MFK {should I start referring to myself as KA?} lived in Aix-en-Provence for a while and wrote a book about that little town where I lived, too, for a bit. Map of Another Town: When I read that for the first time, I was very much convinced that I was back in Aix, so when I looked up from the page and saw just the normal street outside my normal suburban apartment, I felt let down. Reading about MFK sitting in a cafe on the Cours Mirabeau felt like reading a much more literary version of my own journal.

In one essay in The Art of Eating (in this series called "An Alphabet for Gourmets"}, MFK writes, "A is for dining alone, and so am I, if a choice must be made between most people I know and myself. This misanthropic attitude is one I am not proud of, but it is firmly there, based on my increasing conviction that sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly."

And that is firmly what I believe. She wrote out my thoughts long before I was alive to have them, and here I am, nodding along with her through the rest of her essay. Is is good to take pleasure in the small moment of eating alone; MFK and I know this.

Take right now for instance. It is lunchtime at work, and I'm surrounded by the din of other people's conversations. They are discussing the Bears game; I don't have much to add beyond an awareness that they are playing tonight.

Or they are talking about how much Halloween candy they still have at home and should they bring it in? {No, by the way, is the answer to that. We have enough here from everyone else who thought of that idea first.}

These people around me are talking about any number of things, and I get to wrap myself up in their dull roar, their hum of connection. It is all to me nothing but so much background noise, and I sit here alone.

Oh, don't feel sorry for me. I'm looking out the window at this November drizzle and thinking of Normandy. This rain is a Normandy rain, a kind of rain I got to know quite well when I lived there. It is gentle and persistent, but here today, it is warmer than a typical rainy day there—at least in my memory. But it's quiet and beautiful, and I walked to the train station this morning sans umbrella—in honor of those Normans who see little need for an umbrella on a day like this, a day when it's barely but constantly raining.

Eating alone, I can let my mind wander, and that is why I don't want you to feel sorry for me: because in these moments at lunch, I don't have to think of anything particular or do anything productive. I can just be here, at a slowed-down pace, taking in where I am.

Just like MFK.

01 November 2013

the draw of flannel sheets




I have had a problem this week: getting out of bed. You see, I switched to my flannel sheets and fluffy duvet for the winter—no more sleeping under a thin but handmade quilt as I do for most of the year. Cozy though that may sound—this dreaming protected by tiny, precise stitches from my great-grandmother's hands—it's never quite warm enough when the wind slices outside.

Last Sunday, I pulled out my flannel flowered sheets and immediately wanted to get in bed. It was only 4pm, though, and I still had a Halloween party to go to. {Perhaps my costume could've been bedhead?}

Through the party, all I thought was: bed, bed, bed.

Oh, I also thought about Little Pug, who was dressed up as a devil and was, of course, the belle of the ball.

But when I wasn't accepting compliments on my devil dog, I was imagining flannel and how I'd rather be eating in bed than eating little smokies at a party. And I really love little smokies.

You can see, perhaps, why I don't get invited out much: because I spend my time wishing I were reading alone while surrounded by flannel. Who needs human contact when you have winter sheets?


27 October 2013

that dim glow {a poem}




Dark mornings
still have a glow to them
and I feel my way by the gleam of the moon,
by the pinpricks of Orion.
Those are tiny spotlights from heaven, I think,
aware of the vast silliness of this thought,
but the sky above me—
it is so broad, so deep, so limitless
that I am flattened under it,
a moving speck in the millennia of light:
Any thought at this moment runs the risk of smallness.

By the gleam of the moon,
I feel my way down the path,
leaves scattering beneath my feet.
Parting the darkness, stepping over the threshold between dream and reality,
I push ahead,
towards what I do not know,
but moving always
in that dim glow
that leads us before morning breaks.


07 October 2013

an introvert in the woods




Over the weekend, I took a little retreat from my normal life, or as I like to refer to it: I ran away from home for a night. It's so much more satisfying, by the way, to run away from home when you're old enough to drive.

I brought Miss Daisy the Pug with me to go camping at the Richard Bong Recreation Area near Kenosha, Wisconsin. I picked that because 1) it was the first thing that turned up with I googled "camping near Kenosha" that wasn't an RV store, 2) it was just an hour and 20 minutes away, and 3) I could reserve a campsite with just a few days' notice. All these campgrounds in Illinois, you have to reserve a week in advance, or of course, you can risk it and just show up.

Risking it is not in my genetic make-up, and if I'm going to drive an hour+ after packing a car of camping supplies, I would like to be darn sure that will be a campsite with my name on it at the other end.

So to Wisconsin I went, where they allow for my level of spontaneity: you can make reservations with 3 days' notice and feel assured of your "spur-of-the-moment" planning.

It was such a good decision.

I've never done the solo camping thing, although I am well-equipped for it. By that I mean that I have all the stuff necessary, but I also mean that I have the personality necessary. I told a few people at work on Friday what I was doing, and I received mostly comments of awe that I would dare to do that.

"Won't you be scared?"

"But it's so dark!"

"Who will you talk to?"

"What if you have a problem?!?"

"Are you going to pretend to be Thoreau and come back with your journals to publish? Are you going to talk exclusively about living deliberately when you come back on Monday?"

But all I kept thinking—ever since I made the reservation—was, "I can feel my soul expanding with this possibility of being so far away from my normal life." {No offense to all the people in my normal life.}

My introvert self was very much made for solo camping trips, and thanks to my parents, who began outfitting me with camping equipment when I was still quite young, I have everything I need to run away from home and pitch a tent and cook over a grill and pump my own water out of a spigot that looks like it's been there since Laura Ingalls Wilder was alive.

I love camping for many reasons, and it's one of the continual joys of my life that my parents raised me on a foundation of outdoorsy-ness. {It's such a joy that I've even written about it before when I was flying over the desert on the way to Las Vegas.}

I love camping now because it reminds me of growing up, and I can't set foot in a campground without remembering the hundreds of other campgrounds I've been in {all blending into a generalized one, of course, with a mish-mash of red rocks, mountain streams, and tall trees that always smell sweet in the morning air}.

I think about how my sister and I used to spend hours (it seemed) riding the loops of various campgrounds on our bikes. We'd read for awhile, bike for awhile, volunteer to go get water, set up our own steeplechase course {hey, you see what sorts of activities you come up with when you are so far from humanity that you start to think it's normal to shower just once a week}.

And in the evenings, our whole family would sometimes take long bike rides around whatever national park or state park we were in before settling in to play Hearts or study the stars. {All those star lessons, and all I can pick out with any confidence is Orion, Cassiopeia, and the Big Dipper.}

So I love camping for that nostalgic reason—but I also love it because it pares you down to the essential. Everything—from boiling water to cooking breakfast—takes longer than you ever budget for in your regular life, and there's a quiet beauty in saying: I would like coffee, but it's going to be a little while. Delayed pleasure and all that.

Your day essentially becomes about the survival tasks, and so instead of running from activity to activity, you take your time and focus on where you are. I am scrambling eggs over a grill. I am boiling water to clean the skillet. I am doing the crossword while drinking coffee.

I think that's what I needed when I ran away from home: to be present where I am. There is nothing else in a campground to distract me, unlike at home where I could always be cleaning a bathroom or organizing recipes or re-doing my budget. There's always some task to be done, but in a campground, I cannot do any of that.

I cannot clean the bathroom; it's a pit toilet and the thought of cleaning that is something to avoid contemplating for very long.

I cannot do laundry; I wear the same clothes for several days.

I cannot see friends; they are over an hour away back home.

When I was camping, it was just me and my little pug surrounded by trees and a soft dampness to the air that helps you remember that life is more than running from one thing to the next.

And as a bonus, when camping alone with a pug, you get to see faces like this all the time—faces that say, "But I thought we lived inside!"

24 September 2013

on the track at 4:45am





All I have to say is that it is fall, and I cannot step outside right now without instantly believing that all—ALL—is possible.

This morning I ran in a long-sleeve shirt and shorts, which is my favorite running outfit combination. I took that first deep breath of air that has a snap to it, and as I do every year, I thought of freshly sharpened pencils and folders.

Those school supply dreams would have to wait; later, I told myself this morning, when you get to the office, you can sharpen some pencils and file something away in a folder. For now, it's running time.

Speedwork time was more like it. It was 4:45, and I was on the track at Wheaton College, ready to do some 4x200s and some 2x800s, all in the hopes of breaking my best half-marathon time when I run my next race in October. If I can get my legs used to moving fast, they'll just keep up that pace for 13.1 miles, right?

I had expected to have the track all to myself. Did I mention yet that it was 4:45?!? And that I was at a college?!? No college student should be awake at that time, but I saw, out on the far straightaway, someone else running.

This was all I needed to kick my competitive spirit into overdrive.

You beat me here, person who is nothing but a dull blob out on the track? Then I will beat you running.

I took off down the straightaway, trying to remember the last time I was on a track.

I ran track in middle school for the Horace Mann Yellow Jackets. Our uniforms were maroon and gold, and my most lasting memory of that is almost dropping the baton in a relay once. The girl I was passing off to told everyone on the team that she'd heard me say a bad word at the almost-missed-handoff moment. I was—and still am—enough of a goody-two-shoes that this was major news/gossip to all the other 7th graders, and I spent the rest of the track season saying, "I did NOT say that word! Stop trying to make me say it now! I'm going to go read on the in-field until my race!"

Channeling middle school me wasn't going to help me run faster, so I moved on in my head to other memories of tracks: In high school, we had to run the mile every year, and my senior year, I ran it on the same day I was named to the Homecoming Court. And I ran it really, really slowly with a growing pain in my side.

On about lap 3, I thought: Well, it turns out that being on the Homecoming Court does not automatically make your life better and easier, contrary to what many Disney movies would like us to believe.

Just before the end of the mile, I must admit {although I'm not proud of it}, I thought: Should I really be forced to do this? I'm basically royalty in this school, and I need to stay at my best for my very full schedule of Court-duties over the next week. There's a cake walk to preside over and a bonfire to attend, not to mention planning how my hair will be done with that tiara in it. If I were real royalty, people would be running this mile for me, and all I would have to do would be clap from the royal box while drinking lemonade.

Almost-the-Homecoming-Queen me was obviously not into running, so I stopped thinking about her.

Besides, I was gaining on the guy, just by being my 31-year-old self who likes to get up early to workout and who will not allow other people to beat her at 4:45am.

As I flew past the guy—turns out he was not a college student but a middle-aged man—I sang out a quick, "Good morning!"

And even though I was 3 lanes over from the guy and even though I'm sure he had to have heard me coming {what with my heavy reminiscing about the Homecoming Court and how I don't swear}, he jumped about 2 feet in the air when I came by. I had become a creepy runner who scares people, when all I was trying to do was enjoy the cool fall morning—and beat that guy.

You know, when I say it like that, it kind of makes sense that he was taken aback by me.

But I beat him. Let's focus on that. As I came around the straightaway in front of the stands, I raised my arms in triumph and bowed to the crowd.




23 September 2013

on beets



The beets didn't exactly slip out of their skin, as I'd been led to believe they would. After boiling them for 45 minutes and then shocking them in cold water, I thought they would come flying out of those skins.

Instead, I found myself scraping off the skins, chastising myself once again for my unfortunate habit of nail-biting. More and more, it only comes out in times of stress, and that particular week—when I decided to see if I, in my grown-up-ness, had become someone who likes beets—I had started a new position at work. That overwhelming amount of information to consume every day—new people to meet, new processes to learn, new schedules to adhere to, my gosh, even a new desk—it was a lot to take in, but it wasn't until the end of day #3 on the new job that I realized I was perhaps more on edge than I thought.

My nails had become short without me noticing, until I tried to skin beets and found no useful nails for digging in.

No matter.

I turned to my Wusthoff paring knife {what a delight it is to use a quality knife, instead of one that come from Target or, heaven forbid, Ikea}. Even with its sharp edge to give me a start on peeling the beets, if was not a clean job. Beet juice splattered on my white, just-cleaned stove before I thought: Perhaps I should do this outside.

Sometimes the most obvious thoughts occur long after you should've thought them.

No matter.

The beets got peeled and then pickled, a process that made me feel as if I should be in a farmhouse out on the edge of a cornfield, and then I took one bite of my beets, these things I had labored so hard over, and I thought: Oh, beets, where have you been all my life?

19 August 2013

if I could drink this light {a poem}




Reflected in the pond were electrical wires
I'd rather pretend were not there,
focusing all my attention instead on
the late afternoon summer light
that suffuses the world (and me) with nostalgia,
even as I'm firmly planted in the present.

If I could drink the light,
I would choose a tall glass of this.
Golden and sweet,
an elixir of the gods—
for surely, if anyone has the power to
change light into liquid,
it would be them.

Zeus and Hera,
Aphrodite and Demeter,
and all the rest of them up on Olympus,
deigning to glance down at our little world
as we scurry about in the shadows:
our light is a muted pallor in the glory-filled brightness
they get to live in
as they go about their normal day.

If I am dreaming of Greek gods,
perhaps I am not as firmly planted in the present as I thought.

But that is what this light does to me.

I am by a pond in Iowa.
Just over the hill are enough cornfields to feed a nation,
but this light—
merely by sitting in this light,
my mind strays from practical details
like what to eat for dinner
and how the family farm will survive.

In this light,
I start thinking of eternity and heavens
and of how, if only I could drink this light,
I could see eternity in every moment.


16 August 2013

life changes fast: thoughts on Joan Didion



It was the moment when I realized that I'd had my workout pants on backwards the entire time I'd been at the Y that I thought: Well, that's about enough for today.

I'd spent 31 minutes biking furiously on a stationary bicycle, although "furiously" is the wrong word for it. While I biked, I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, about her grief in the year after she lost her husband very suddenly to a heart attack, so I suppose you could say I was biking "grievously," a misused word here, but one that makes me smile with the word play of it.

And now inevitably, I'm thinking and writing in the voice of Joan Didion, one of those writers I admire so much that I've written about her before. She has this chopped but lyrical style, a way of conveying so much emotion in these scattered phrases {and really, isn't that what all writers are going for?}.

She writes:
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
and
In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control. Given that grief remained the most general of afflictions its literature seemed remarkably spare. There was the journal of CS Lewis kept after the death of his wife, A Grief Observed. There was the occasional passage in one or another novel [...]. There were, in classical ballets, the moments when one or another abandoned lover tries to find and resurrect one or another loved one, the blued light, the white tutus, the pas de deux with the loved one that foreshadows the final return to the dead: la danse des ombres, the dance of the shades. There were certain poems, in fact many poems. [...] The poems and the dances of the sades seemed the most exact to me.
It's in Joan Didion's repetition of phrases that I could get lost—that I did get lost, pedaling as if her grief depended on it, as if my grief depended on it. By the time I finished those minutes on the stationary bicycle, I had gone 8.21 miles, and my legs ached.

Read this book, and you will hear echoes throughout of that "Life changes fast" idea.

Read this book, and you will want to absorb grief literature right along with Joan Didion, sinking into poems by Auden and ee cummings, wrapping yourself in words by others who have found a way to write about something we all feel but can so rarely describe.

Read this book, and you will start to think in Joan Didion's voice {if you are lucky}, and so even when you have a realization about how your workout pants are on backwards, it will be in her clipped but soaring take on life.

You'll hear it in your head, and you'll laugh at how you summed up that moment. You'll think then: Thank the Lord for this ordinary moment, this ordinary reason to smile because life changes fast, life changes in the instant.

06 August 2013

don't ever forget the coffee




Don't you hate it when you go to the grocery store and walk out without the one thing you really needed?

This happened to me on Sunday. Yes, I got milk and cream, ground beef and frozen peas {for the tater tot casserole I was planning to make}, fruits and vegetables for snacks.

All those things are fine and dandy and are certainly making packing my lunch bag easier.

But I walked out of the store without coffee.

I didn't realize this until I was home again and had stepped into the laziness vortex that inevitably exists on summer Sunday afternoons—centralized, I think, on my balcony with the Sunday paper and/or a good book.

How could I possibly leave then? How would I ever make it back to the car and all the way to the store? It sounded more like a journey for Ulysses, the original guy or James Joyce's guy who lives through the longest day ever {at least it seems like the longest day ever to an English major trying to understand the book}.

I couldn't possibly make it, and then I remembered this other time that I ran out of coffee. That time, I used instant coffee and proclaimed it not "that bad."

As a caveat, I was also recovering from the plague the last time I had instant coffee: I was still coughing in that way that makes people edge away from you, and if you're coughing that much, how much should you trust your taste buds? They are covered in germs and mucus, and are most likely looking a bit harried after being assaulted so much by the loud hacking.

Not "that bad"?!? Yesterday, when I tried my instant coffee trick again, I had a sitcom worthy reaction. Where are the cameras when you need them? Obviously, not in my apartment at 4:30am. Thank heavens.

One sip and I spit it out in the sink. Not that bad?!?

I felt regret for the energy I had used heating up the water to make that sludge. Sorry, Earth, for adding to your demise by using electricity to make something that never should've been made in the first place. To make up for it, I will sit in the dark for the next three nights. {Oh, right, like that's going to happen. Did you hear that I just got the Internet? And with the Internet and my fancy TV, I can stream TV show like that quirky British series Outnumbered? Me, sit in the dark not consuming energy? Give me some time to get over the wonder that is the Internet right in your very own home.}

Let's assume the obvious here: My tastes have been refined over the last two years, and I now accept nothing but the best coffee. You know, the kind you can get for $5 at Trader Joe's.

Or let's assume that I make really poor judgment calls about taste when recovering from illness. Yeah, that one is probably a better assumption here.

----------

In case you're concerned, I did buy coffee after work yesterday. And flowers. And cheese. And this quince paste to eat with the cheese. And ciabatta for the cheese and the quince paste. And olive oil.

And that, my friends, is why you always remember to buy the most important thing on your list when you're at the grocery store: because if you forget it, when you go back for it, you'll be suckered into buying many other things that you might need, as if you're trying to reassure that one item that you didn't really forget it in the first place. See, look at all these other things I bought, coffee! Don't be mad at me for forgetting about you! I wanted to give you more time to hang out on your shelf.

The fact that I attempted to reassure my coffee's emotions by buying more stuff should tell you that really, I should never go a day without coffee again. It might be the thing that's holding in my apparent urge to give emotions to inanimate objects.



24 July 2013

not far from your door



This morning, I ran outside before work, and it seemed that no one else in the world was awake yet. An exaggeration, of course, since in the whole world, it was all times at that moment. Somewhere, it was 7:45am and somewhere, it was 7:45pm, and at one point on my run, I'm sure it was 5 o'clock somewhere.

But in Glen Ellyn, it seemed that no one else was awake yet. I ran past the library, where a homeless man was asleep outside. What a shock it always is to see a homeless person—anywhere, yes, but it's particularly jarring in the affluent western suburbs. Surrounded by huge homes and private schools, it is easy—too easy—to forget that not everyone can just pop into Starbucks on a whim for a "special treat."

The man was sleeping sitting up, leaned back against the red brick of the library and surrounded by all his worldly possessions in various grocery bags and ripped backpacks.

This summer, the adult reading program is giving away an iPad Mini. You're entered in a drawing for every 5 books you read. But also for every 5 books, the library is donating to the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, recognizing, I supposed, that needs sleeps not far from their door.

23 July 2013

finally, i've made it to the 21st century. it's not too bad here.




I have lived alone for 8 years, and that entire time, I have lived without the Internet at home.

To some people, that's like saying I lived without running running. In this day and age, the Internet is one of those expected utilities, like electricity; you assume everyone in your very first-world life has it.

Oh, I could pretend it was for some high and mighty reason, such as:
We live constantly tethered to this invention of our, this thing that spews information at us so we rarely have to tax our brains to remember who starred in that one movie from 1998 {let alone more important information, like how the 3 branches of government interact}. We're rarely without an opportunity to connect to others, but ironically, this has made us more disconnected. With the proliferation of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and even your run-of-the-mill blogs {ahem}, we have become curators of our digital lives, stopping too often in the midst of a conversation, concert, or meal to think: How would I be funny about this online?

I decided not to get the Internet at home because I wanted to give myself the ability to disconnect. To engage with real life and not allow that stream of information to become a roaring, raging flood filling every corner of my mind. I needed a break from this very modern world.
Now that sounds like a reason for avoiding the Internet {also: it sounds like a thesis possibility}.

But here's my real reason:
I AM CHEAP.

Frugal is a better way to put that. It makes me sound wise and careful, but when it comes down to it, I just didn't want to pay for something that I could get for free by walking across the street to the library.

{Please note: This argument breaks down when it comes to books. I know I can get them for free at the library, too, but I get a thrill out of underlining in books, and librarians do not get a thrill out of that. My cheapness is overruled by a fear of getting in trouble with a librarian.}

This cheapness, by the way, is the same guiding virtue that has led me to keep my brother's bike that I inherited, in the way that youngest children often inherit things—it's the bike he had when he was 13 or so. He is now 45, making the bike essentially the same age as me. Maybe we should start celebrating our birthdays together.

That bike is heavy, let me tell you, compared to any bike made today, even the cheap-o ones sold at Wal-Mart. But it still works; why upgrade when this bike is perfectly functional?

That's my reasoning influenced by cheapness, and I'd say it's solid.

By this same reasoning, I also still own {and wear} tank tops from 6th grade. {This tell you 2 things: 1) My mom bought me good quality clothes, and 2) I haven't grown since I was 12.}

So why pay for the Internet at home, especially when I'm on a computer all day at work? You very quickly reach a saturation point of staring at a screen when you do it for a living.

However, over the past few months, I have reached a saturation point with going to the library. It's mostly because of laziness. {Boy, I'm really highlighting my good qualities here.}

By the time I get home from work and working out, I just want to change into my pj's, pour a glass of wine, and snuggle with my pug. Even the thought of walking down the block, finding a spot in the library, and logging on—not to mention that I can't do any of that in my pj's—sounds tiring.

Also, every time I left home in search of the Internet, I felt a lot like an early 20something, although of course they all have the Internet these days. It'd be more accurate to say I felt like a 20something from a different age, back when Internet cafes existed and waistlines on pants were laughably higher.

I know. It's laziness, a desire to not appear like a character from an early episode of Friends, and a love of comfy clothes and alcohol that made me get the Internet.

And I'm never looking back. Or leaving my apartment.

17 July 2013

the only trick you'll ever need to get up early




I have discovered the secret to getting up early.

It is not to be a morning person, although that certainly helps.

I sometimes feel bad for those night owls who have t force themselves to crawl into bed at a reasonable hour because they know that they have to get up early for work.

If I were one of them, as I laid there trying to calm my breathing and convince my brain that it was sleepy time, I would be fuming at the general set-up of the world:
Why are morning people seen as the more productive go-getters, just because they rise with the sun? {Or before, depending on the time of the year.}

Why does work have to start so early? The majority of us are no longer farmers, so why do we insist on getting so much done in the morning? I don't care if I have to work in the heat of the day because I work in air conditioning.

Only children should go to bed so early.
But I am not a night owl, and I've never spent much time considering how unfair the world must seem to someone who hits their stride at oh, say, 1am. Perhaps this is an opportunity to work on my walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes skills.

There for real is a hormone that plays a role in determining if you like to get up early or stay up late. {I used to be a medical writer, so I'm like a former fake doctor; you can trust me on medical stuff.} Those poor night owls whose bodies are conspiring against them. As with many things in life {acne, mood swings, fat that won't go away}, they should just blame their hormones.

The world is indeed biased toward people like me, but I will admit: even for a person like me, my new wake-up time of 4:30 can seem awfully close to the middle of the night.

So here is my secret—the trick that makes 4:30 into a normal, why-not-get-up-now time:
Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up.

I read this somewhere years ago {so long ago, in fact, that I can't remember where, although it sounds like something that would be in Real Simple}, and it really works.

More than putting your alarm clock across the room or setting multiple alarms, this glass of water thing works.

At first, it works because who can imagine going back to bed after standing up long enough to drink a whole glass?

You can successfully trick your body into waking up; you can start drinking that water half-asleep and by the time you get to the end of that glass, you're thinking, “Good morning, world! I love you! What do you have for me today?”

After a week or so of tricking your body, you'll find that you're 1) waking up craving water, and 2) already awake when you start drinking. You will have become someone who can get up at 4:30, ready for the day.

I don't really know why or how this works, this trick that gives you the strength to overpower a very strong desire to hit snooze.

Does it re-program your hormones? Is it all psychological? Does the fact that you wake up thirsty simply mean you should be drinking more water the day before {even if you're sure you're drinking enough}? Will the glass of water effect eventually wear off, leading you to drink a gallon?

I don't know, and at 4:30 when I bounce from bed, thirsty for the day, I don't care. A glass of water, it works, reminding me that sometimes, it's the simplest things that make life easier.




15 July 2013

how the day will go {a poem}




Until that moment, all I heard were my own footsteps,
my running shoes hitting the gravel path
with an encouraging crunch that said:
faster-faster-faster-faster.

It was pre-dawn,
and running east towards the edge of a pink-red line just curving in the sky,
I did a hop-skip-and-a-jump in celebration
of such glorious isolation:
a run alone for an introvert is rejuvenation,
as soul-healing as a talk with a good friend.

My day would go the way of the morning sun: up.
I knew that much as I listened to my feet on the path.

And then in that moment, all I heard was a scampering,
5 bloated raccoons crawling across the gravel path
with a conniving crunch that said:
there are more of us than you.

I leaped over the final coon, who
must've underestimated my introvert speed.
Looking down, I saw his beady, glinting, ringed eyes glaring up,
an accusation of trespassing as his lips curled back over his teeth.

It was then I realized: I never know how my day will go.
And to pretend otherwise is an incredible act of daring,
one we all seem capable of in the early morning light
until we're reminded that
we're all just guests here,
making our way down the dark path as best we can.




14 July 2013

why i want to yell at other people




I want to yell things at drivers.

This is my confession, although it probably doesn't seem like a very worthy/juicy one, given that everyone wants to yell at other drivers at some point.

So let's call this more of my declaration of empathy with others, which sounds like something the United Nations would pass.

Here is what I want to yell at drivers: I am a person!

It is not because I'm feeling unsure of my personhood; it is because people in my town do not understand crosswalks.

When you're in a car, you're supposed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This is the rule, as well as a generally non-mean-person thing to do.

Below is a list of mean people behaviors I want to yell about:
  1. Ignoring the fact that if I am walking, that means I am outside in the elements, unlike a Mean Driver in their climate-controlled car. I know you may want to get to where you're going faster because it is starting to rain, but did you notice that I am in the rain and that my umbrella is not as sturdy as Mary Poppins' and does not give me the ability to fly home?
  2. Glaring at me as I cross the road, as if I were a chicken in a bad joke. Why are you angry, Mean Driver? Is NPR telling you all bad news? Did your favorite song from high school just come on the radio and you were still able to sing along with every word—but then you realized it was on the oldies station? I mean, you can't possibly be upset with me for using the crosswalk. I'm not jaywalking. I'm even smiling at you. Please smile back; it'll make you feel better.
  3. Speeding up when I have obviously started crossing the street. A block away from one of the crosswalks I use every day on my walk home from the train is a stop sign. I'm a smart pedestrian: I look both ways approximately 112 times before deciding it's safe enough to cross. The number of drivers who are sitting at the stop sign, see me start to cross, and then gun it through the intersection—if you knew how high that number was, you would yell, too.

I would like to warn you: If you do any of these things, I will yell* at you and put you on my Mean List.


*The yelling will be in my head. All this talk of yelling, and let's be honest, I would never actually yell at Mean Drivers. I mostly just smile at them more broadly and remind myself to be charitable towards others, even in my thoughts. And then I scurry across the road because no matter how Pollyanna/Anne of Green Gables your thoughts are, you still run a large risk of being run over in my town if you're in a crosswalk.

08 July 2013

conversation tips from NPR




I heard this story on NPR about how we're always trying to figure out what our pets are thinking.

We talk for them and give them, usually, funny voices.

We ask each other, "Now, just what do you suppose she's thinking when she digs her face into the couch like that?" Whoever we asked may speculate on the dog's thoughts by using that funny voice. You'll both laugh.

It wasn't exactly breaking news, particularly for anyone who owns a pet, but that's what I love about NPR: sure, they do their share of newsy stuff, but when you don't have commercials taking up air time, you're left with quite a bit of what I like to call quirkiness possibility.

{At certain times of the year, they're also left with quite a bit of time for pledge drives, which, I'm sorry to report, by the second day reduces me to shouting at the radio: BUT I ALREADY SUPPORT YOU! Where's my secret bypass button on this radio so I don't have to listen to you beg?

By the sixth day, I'm tempted to coerce everyone I know into supporting, just so the pledge drive will be shorter.}

The quirkiness possibility is in those stories on things like, "We like to talk for our dogs." It's as if NPR wants to help you be a better, more informed conversationalist. Maybe they have a corporate goal of making all of us into Renaissance men and women, able to pull out information on nearly every topic.

If they do, I'm in support of that goal. We all need more things to talk about beyond what we did over the weekend, how the weekend was too short, the rain or lack of rain, how we hope it doesn't rain over the weekend, and what we had/will have for dinner.

Not that those aren't fine topics. Don't you find that the predictability of some conversations is reassuring? They are the equivalent of sitting by a fireplace on a winter's night; you know you'll be comfortable, and you might get a little sleepy.

But sometimes, you want to throw some lighter fluid on the fire, and that's where NPR comes in handy. Just pay attention to what's happening in your conversation and see where you can slip in your NPR tidbit about dogs, GMO corn, or how to make beef stock.

If all else fails, just say, "Yes, I had a good weekend, too. In fact, I heard the most interesting thing on NPR."




03 July 2013

a train commuter!



I've had this dream since I was little about being a train commuter. How a little girl from a medium-sized town in Iowa comes up with this dream is the same way she comes up with a love for France: because it is so entirely other than her normal life.

Being a train commuter seemed so exotic and urban {which, when you're from Iowa and surrounded by corn fields, are synonymous}. The trains that went through my town when I was little were mostly ordinary and obvious and good for the economy: they were freight trains full of coal and grain and whatever else needed to be shipped.

Trains caused delays when you were stuck at the crossings: this was my familiarity with trains and their function within the community.

You learned that as you drove closer to downtown and the tracks that you needed to listen for the whistle; you needed to keep an eye on the train bridge crossing the Mississippi. Was there a train coming? Could you make it across before the gates came down at Main? Or should you swing west, up the river bluff and towards the bridge crossing the tracks?

By the time I learned to drive at 14, this gauging of train location was practically second nature, and I just knew when I should head up the bluff.

Later, after I'd learned to drive a stick but wasn't yet confident in it, the sight and sound of a train slowly chugging along the track would cause a sharp intake of breath—a sharp realization of fear. Halfway up the steep hill of the river bluff, on the way to bridge across the tracks, there was a stop sign.

If no one was behind me, I'd be fine; I wouldn't have to worry about running into them as I tried to do the delicate balance of the clutch and gas, trying to keep the car from rolling too far back, trying to keep it from bucking and dying on a hill. That hill, it was my Waterloo, and I did what Napoleon should've done: I avoided it.

I would sit at the train crossing as freight trains lumbered by, moving at the speed of molasses in January, as my mother likes to say. I would wait and avoid hyperventilating, and I told myself that slowing down and taking a break in the middle of the day just to admire my town and its excellent train crossings was well worth it.

I could listen to the click-click-click of the train wheels and to the whistle, and I could avoid hitting anyone. A win-win.

The sound of those train whistles and the click-clacking wheels—not to mention the cascading boom when train cars were coupled in the freight yard—that is the soundtrack of home.

Even now, I live near the railroad tracks in Glen Ellyn, and some people have asked, “But doesn't the train noise keep you up at night?”

No—it's practically a lullaby to me.

I always tell them that, and then tack on that I sleep like the dead, barely moving all night after I fall asleep almost instantly. A lot of people focus on that and ignore that I love the sound of trains so much, I might have been a Boxcar Child in another life. {Please tell me you've read The Boxcar Children books. They're charming in that way that being an orphan during the Depression always seems idyllic in retrospect.}

Trains where I come from are on the journey for the long-haul. Even the Amtrak trains that pass through Burlington are on their way to or from California, the people on them curled up with a pillow they brought on board so the train would feel more like home for 3 days.

The passengers wander into the dining car at their scheduled dinner time, hoping that this time it will feel more like that scene in White Christmas where Bing Crosby leads a four-part harmony about snow.

It rarely does feel like that, although you do feel that you've stepped back in time to when the train was the way to get places. When you're on the Amtrak, it's hard not to think about how astounding it must've been to get on a train for the first time back when it was new, unsure of this new technology—and then immediately become entranced with the ability to eat dinner in comfort while the cornfields flew by.

Now, though, I ride the train every day, and the scenery flying by is very suburban: restaurants, cupcake shops, bookstores, dry cleaners.

At one point, we cross over one of Chicago's expressways, and I always look down on it with a little smile {perhaps even bordering on a smirk}, thinking: I'd rather be here, doing my crossword puzzle, than trying to merge onto you any day.

I'm a train commuter! Like a real grown-up!

When any of your “when I grow up” dreams comes true, you instantly feel a mix of your younger self {complete with thick glasses, bangs, and a Care Bears t-shirt, in my case}, and the person you've become. “We did it,” you want to tell your little self.

“We dreamed big of joining the throngs heading to work on the train, and we did it! Now, what other, perhaps more ambitious dreams, did we have? Have we achieved those yet? What's that you say—become an Olympic gymnast like Mary Lou Retton? Umm, sorry, girly, but we better give up on that one.”

And then you give your little self a high-five of reassurance and get on the train. To work! Like a real grown-up!


24 June 2013

a 7-minute poem




A 7-minute Poem

Because that is all the time I have:
7 minutes left in this afternoon break, having spent most of it eating pizza,
a late second lunch.

My first lunch, healthy and rich with southern French flavors
{it was ratatouille, after all}
did not, I'm sorry to report, satisfy,
which makes it distinctly un-French to me.

Isn't everything French—from the fashion to the
little shots of espresso served in perfect white cups—
supposed to be more satisfying?

More chic, more cultured, more historic, more beautiful: that is,
I thought, why we all secretly envy the French.

But just 2 hours after that ratatouille and hungry again,
I bought a slice of cheese pizza
that had been sitting too long under a heat lamp in the cafeteria,
but I gulped it down anyway:
large, hot, greasy, the cheese a little burnt.

Its flavors bold and borrowed from other lands, it was America on a plate.


20 June 2013

on lemonade stands





It was hot and muggy on that run. I recently switched to being a workout-after-work-person, and my body, it is not happy with me.

It wants to run at 5am, not 5pm—and it certainly wants to run when it's 52 out, not when it's 82 out 12 hours later—the sun roasting and broiling and boiling and other hot cooking terms through the day, heating up the ground until I swear I can feel the heat through my Mizuno running shoes.

What I keep saying is, "I just need to get my body used to this; I'm sure it won't take long."

But what I'm thinking is: Oh my stars, how am I ever going to make it through JULY?!?! We're not even to official summer yet. We're nowhere near the humidity that August will bring, and I'm already plodding along on a what-I-think-is-muggy Tuesday afternoon?

I never would make it as a Southerner, as an aside.

It was hot and muggy, and two little girls had set up a lemonade stand at the end of their driveway.

As I got closer, I saw it was actually a Lemonade and Mints stand: they were selling Starlight Mints for 25-cents each, which seems like a rip-off since I can get a whole bag of my own for 99-cents at Aldi and let's face it, those little girls might've found those mints in the back of their mother's pantry {or heaven forbid, in bowls at restaurants around town—not that I'm in the habit of assuming little girls are mint thieves}.

Every summer, I vow to buy lemonade from every little kid that I pass, but how was I to know that I would pass a stand on this out-of-the-way cul-de-sac on my run? {The girls obviously weren't thinking of their business plan very carefully; they were not in a high traffic area. Gosh, I have so many suggestions for those kids.}

Of course I didn't have money with me, and I slowed down a bit {something I was thankful to do; did I mention the humidity and my sweating yet?}, planning to tell the girls that I'd be back after my run for some lemonade.

How refreshing it would be, and it'd be well worth the—$2?!? These girls were charging $2 for lemonade?

Inflation is rough all around, it seems.

But still, what's $2 to me? I was just about to open my mouth, when I saw that the girls hadn't even looked up yet: They had an iPad set up on the table, behind the lemonade pitcher, and they were watching, I assume, a movie or TV show.

They both stared, mouths open a little bit to breathe more easily on the hot day, at the screen in front of them, oblivious of me, oblivious of their stand, oblivious of their outrageous prices.

{Perhaps they were saving up to buy another iPad so they wouldn't have to share while they were at "work."}

I picked up my pace as my head filled with the kinds of things that should be said by a crotchety old woman who hasn't been happy since Shirley Temple grew up and stopped making musicals.

Kids these days. Don't even see what's going on around them. Here it is, a beautiful day out, and they might as well be inside with their TV. Why, when I was little, we were happy to have a lemonade stand. Happy to have a chance to talk to the neighbors and give them a little refreshment. Life was better back then, and kids these days, they think they have it so good.

I couldn't believe how quickly I'd aged, just because of an iPad on a hot day. I shook my head {sweat flying out} and looked for the best in the situation {Anne of Green Gables shining through}: Maybe the girls had been out all day enjoying the weather and not staring at a screen. Maybe they had just that moment picked up the iPad. Maybe they were watching an educational video, or Anne of Green Gables. Maybe they were waiting for the dad to come home from a business trip, and he was running late, so they were using the iPad to distract themselves.

Maybe their just typical kids of their generation, staring down at their screen {like so many of us do these days—a chronic position we're in that will, I think, lead to chronic cricks in the neck as we grow older}.

I did not, I must report, go back for lemonade but it was not because of their iPad. By the time I finished my run, the only drink that sounded good was a cassis a l'eau—water with a splash of creme de cassis in it.

I felt so French as I poured myself a glass, and I felt so old-school as I brought the paper—the real, tangible, flip-the-pages paper—out to the balcony to read.

{But you know what was next to me? My smartphone. Of course it was. I believe this is a pithy place to say: Judge not, lest ye be judged.}

14 June 2013

do you know what kinds of bugs these are? {a short summer story}




"Oh, honey, have you ever seen bugs like this before?" An older woman, shorter than I am, stood next to the curb, peering down.

I was on an evening walk with Little Pug, and we were just setting out, making our way across the condo development's parking lot and towards greener pastures, or at the very least, a sidewalk.

Miss Daisy was zipping back and forth wildly, testing the limits of her leash, but I like to think she was also expressing, in squat pug form, what I was feeling: IT'S SPRING! AND I'M OUTSIDE! AND THERE'S SUN! I HAVE NOTHING TO DO TONIGHT BUT BASK IN THAT SPRING SUN@

Pugs always think in all caps, by the way. They are an excitable, happy little bunch, despite how sad their faces look all the time.

We were just walking past the retention pond when the older woman stopped me and pointed down at the ground. "Oh, honey," she said, concern trickling through in her voice, "have you ever seen bugs like this before?"

I looked down at the ground, which was, in fact, moving. Hopping from hundreds of points—almost like popcorn seeds right before they pop. They jump around the pan a bit and then explode.

At least nothing was exploding, I told myself.

The ground may be carried away by theses bugs—or maybe they would become the ground. Maybe it was the beginning of a plague, a la Moses and the "let my people go, you mean old Egyptians" portion of the Bible—but at least nothing was exploding. That should be a reassuring fact, I told myself.

I leaned closer to the asphalt. Looking at the moving ground of bugs was a lot like looking at your TV screen when it's all staticky: Your eyes start to blur and even what's solid&Miss Daisy, for instance—starts to look jumpy.

But then it all came into focus, and I realized that those were most definitely not bugs: They were baby frogs, leaving their retention pond home for the first time to make their way in the big wide suburban world.

And I really mean baby: We're talking the size of your pinkie fingernail, assuming you're a petite girl like me. If you're not, I guess go with half the size of your pinkie fingernail and then imagine seeing an entire parking lot hopping with half-pinkie-nail-sized things.

Cute, yes.

Amazing how creation can be so perfect on the small scale, yes.

But a little creepy, too, and let's face it: my thoughts about the ten plagues sent to the Egyptians were rather prescient.

"Um, I don't think those are bugs, ma'am," I told the older woman. "They're frogs—that's why they're hopping."

"They're bugs that look like frogs?"

"No, just frogs. Not bugs at all."

"Do you think these are bugs that frogs will eat?"

Perhaps I wasn't being clear. I contemplated speaking louder, but that's what people in movies do when they want to be understood, and its only effect is comic.

"No, that would be cannibalism. These things that you think are bugs are actually frogs. If you lean closer, you can see that."

She looked at me as if I had asked her to do a backbend. "I'll just stay up here. I don't need to be that close to bugs."

I saw my helpful explanations weren't getting us anywhere, and I wasn't sure miming would help. But she was looking at me so earnestly, wanting to know if I was just as amazed as she was about these hopping bugs.

I gave in. "They certainly are something else. I've never seen anything like them, that's for sure."

"Ooh, your little dog just ate one! Do you think that's okay for her?"

I looked down at Miss Daisy, who was scootching her snub face closer and closer to her next froggy victim. My mind was suddenly filled with visions of frogs hopping around her GI tract, eventually bursting through her stomach. I did not like that vision at all.

"Um, sure she can eat bugs. She does it all the time, but still I think we should be on our way," I told the older woman as I scooped up Miss Daisy and carried her away from the frogs, away from the plague, and away from the confusion of a never steady ground.





23 May 2013

a lady of leisure: pretending to be a Jane Austen character





Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character.

Perhaps you think I do this all the time, what with the title of this blog and all, but I don't. In fact, the point of the blog's title is more that it's hard to be like a Jane Austen heroine in the modern world. {Should you be extremely interested in this, you should read one of my first posts, wherein I explain the title and exactly what I think dear Jane should've prepared me for. And oh my word, I just realized I wrote that post three years ago today. It's like a blogaversary for me! Please buy me something.}

It's hard to be a Jane Austen character for many reasons:
  • lack of empire-waist dresses
  • lack of a silly mother who draws too much attention to her nerves {and for that I am ever grateful}
  • lack of a horse
  • lack of living in England
  • and the distinct need—and ability—to work

Back in Jane's day, a woman of a certain class wasn't expected to work, even if her family rather desperately needed money. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility embodies this: she, her mother, and her sisters are left virtually penniless after her father passes away and the estate they've been living on passes to a son from dear old dad's first marriage.

And really, when you've been living on an estate complete with a stable and servants and more rooms than you know what to do with, anything less than that is going to feel like you're penniless, even if you do actually have a few hundred pounds a year.

This is Elinor's point when she's trying to talk some reason into her mother as they look for houses to rent: when your income is just a few hundred pounds, you can't spend all of it on the house. You do, at some point, have to eat, and you should probably have money for clothes.

But as sharp as Elinor is, she can't just go get a job at the local bookseller as a way to supplement the family's income. And to think of getting a career, say as a financial advisor or an editor? Please. Women of her class were expected to be well-rounded in things like music and art and languages {who feels a pressing need to re-read the classic discussion of Darcy and Elizabeth on just what it takes to be an "accomplished" young lady?). They were expected to do pretty needlework and know how to run a household and organize games of whist.

But work? Never. Their work was to find a husband who was attracted to all that well-roundedness. {Why be accomplished if it doesn't accomplish you a husband?} And this is Elinor's frustration: she can't even earn a living.

You see, I'm sure, my main challenge in being a Jane Austen character: no, it is not that I'm not well-rounded. It's the whole working thing.

But not today. And not for the last five weeks, actually. I have been, as I like to tell people, pretending to be a lady of leisure as I transition jobs {I can tell you more about that, if you'd like, sometime}. Today, the pretending stopped, and I actually was a lady of leisure, someone who sees the hours stretch out in front of her and doesn't think, 'Oh, but which item on my to-do list shall I tackle first?!?'

Instead, I looked at the hours and thought, 'I shall do some embroidery today, and accomplishing that will be enough.'

I sat on the couch for hours. Just here in one place! I sipped coffee, and I made a little lunch, but mostly I focused on my pattern and watched movies. {Another reason I couldn't be a Jane Austen character: the inability to watch Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina while I do my well-rounded stuff like needlework.}

How long has it been since I have just sat? How long has it been since I didn't make a list for the day? How long has it been since I got to indulge in a day and spend it decadently? {It's an indication that you're a sensible, practical girl when your idea of a decadent day is watching Audrey Hepburn.}

Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character {although yes, they did more than just sit}, and it was just what I needed. Also, I've gotten really good at needlework and that in and of itself makes me a modern-day Jane Austen girl.



20 May 2013

crazy in the mid-may heat




It must've been the heat that made the town go crazy.

Or maybe it was the beer tent up at the Taste of Glen Ellyn—the ability to drink beer in broad daylight while standing in a parking lot next to the shoe store and a Mexican restaurant went to people's heads, perhaps.

Add to the beer the deep-fried Oreos, and it was fated to be a dangerous afternoon.

But mostly, I do think it was the heat. We Midwesterners are made for seasons; we like to talk about them and anticipate them and complain about them, but sometimes, they arrive without us expecting them.

You'd think we'd be prepared for them, what with all the talking, but sometimes, especially with summer, we are taken aback by the suddenness of the heat. One night, you're sleeping with the windows open, and the next afternoon, you have streams of sweat running down your back and you somehow left the house wearing too many layers of clothes.

And that's when we go crazy with the heat.

I'm not talking murdering people crazy, but yesterday on my dog walk with Little Pug, I saw:
  • Two men in tank tops that neither one of them should've been wearing almost get into a fist fight. I have never heard the f-word used in so many creative ways in my little town.
  • Children drawing chalk outlines of each other on the sidewalk in gruesome positions, as if they had fallen from the roof and broken both legs. I think they were playing a horrible game called "CSI: Glen Ellyn." That show would not be interesting at all since the police beat report in the local paper mostly lists missing garbage cans and destroyed landscaping, but the children didn't seem to know that. They wanted their neighborhood to be a crime scene.
  • Two stray dogs. Maybe this doesn't sound crazy where you come from, but Glen Ellyn is the kind of town where most dogs live behind an electric fence. Stray dogs just don't happen; here, dogs stay in their perfectly manicured lawns {unless their owners have been the victim of a landscaping destroying plot} and rest on shaded porches that feature American flags and bundles of forsythia by the door.

    So these two stray dogs were very out of place, and my Little Pug on her little leash looked at them with a mix of envy and confusion.

    I kept asking the dogs who they belonged to, but they wouldn't answer, possibly because they were panting so much from the heat, and they weren't wearing any tags. This led a dog-owner crisis moment where I thought: What do I do? Go door-to-door? Tell them to go home and see where they end up? Keep them?

    And then the littler dog—the yippy one— jumped away from me and into the street, straight towards an oncoming SUV. There was a splitsecond where I thought this was going to become a scene with a doggy outline drawn in chalk, but the dog—I am not kidding you—tucked and rolled, avoiding the tires, and then took off towards the two men about to have a fistfight.

    They stopped when they saw this little black furball running towards them—the dog broke up their fight!—and then darted into someone's back yard {followed by the other dog}, never to be seen again.

    At least by me on that walk in the heat of Glen Ellyn when I wondered: have we all gone a little mad in this mid-May heat?



14 May 2013

the delight of a different story




I sit in my car at the stoplight on Butterfield Road. The concrete is still that hurting, unnatural bright of a recently-poured road—white, almost, with a dash of a glinting metal thrown in.

It's only 10 in the morning but the sunlight blazes as if it were 2pm on a July day. Everything is too bright and next to me, there is a strip mall with a store where you're supposed to bring in all your gold and gets lots of cash.

Who has that much gold? Why is a whole store needed? How big of a melting pot do they have?

These are questions I will never know the answer to because I don't care to know the answer: even insatiable curiosity has its limits.

All around me and my car is suburbia, but as I wait for the light to change, I see a pocket of England up on a hill in the forest preserve next to Butterfield Road.

A lake with hills rising sharply from its banks.

Trees on top of the hill, just green in this spring, but off to the right, there are purple flowering trees.

Now, I have a weakness for trees that flower in spring and so my eye immediately jumps to this purple that looks like it doesn't belong, like it has been dropped from another world—a fairy world, perhaps.

Or England, I decided. Looking up at those flowering trees, I want to see a Jane Austen-esque character walking up the hill, book in hand and ready to lose herself for the afternoon.

I will admit: there is nothing particularly English about the scene, but I enjoy, if only for a few moments, the delight of telling myself a different story than one that starts out: I was at a stoplight next to a Cash for Gold store.


07 May 2013

that familiar conviction: thoughts on The Great Gatsby




I sat out on my balcony today, one side of me too hot from the sun beating down. It was only supposed to be a high of 72 today, which I once declared to be my perfect temperature, but there in the sun, it was too hot and I worried about burning.

It's funny: I've been listening to The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and it must be impossible to read him and not suddenly start writing like him. That's what I just did with those short declarations all strung together, even though I started this wanting to talk about another writer from that existentially trying time in Paris—another of that Lost Generation: F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Because the movie of The Great Gatsby is coming out this Friday, I pulled my copy of the book off the shelf: must be a good English major and read the book again before seeing the movie.

I hadn't gotten more than a page when I was struck with that very English major urge to underline.

Oh, the beauty of Fitzgerald's phrasing.

It's not that I had forgotten how you could lose yourself in his language; oh, no. When I was in high school, I had a quote book where I'd painstakingly copy in lines from books or poems or movies or songs that hit me. The kind of lines that may you want to read them over and over. The kind of lines that sent a hot line down your spine every time you say them aloud.

When I read Gatsby for the first time, I wanted to copy in the whole book.

And there I was, 15 years later, sitting on my balcony on a hot spring afternoon, twitching to find my old quote book. I wanted to see if I put in there this line:
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

Because that line is precisely how I feel right now, even though it is spring and not summer. The leaves have just, rather belatedly, burst forth from the trees, in that way that you barely notice. One day, they are bare twigs and the next day, the world is summer-like and green and leafy and you wonder how you could've missed all that growth.

So the trees have exploded and on this spring afternoon, I felt that life was beginning all over again. I felt it because I was hot from the sun and because I was lost in a book that had been a part of me since I was 15. Life is cyclical, and if it is truly cyclical, then you're always finding yourself in another new beginning, one that feels a little familiar but is fresh all the same.

My gosh, can you tell that I've been reading too much from the Lost Generation?

19 April 2013

thoughts on the rain



The rain came down so hard and fast this morning that a river sprang up in the yard.

The water raced down the slight hill from the appropriately-named Hillside Street, past a house that must've been holding its breath in an attempt to remain watertight—and flowed, finally, into a parking lot.

----------

As a sidenote, "raining cats and dogs" is a ridiculous, unhelpful expression, especially if you like cats and dogs. And particularly if you own a dog who refuses to go out in the rain and instead looks at you angrily, as if you summoned this rain to hurt her.

----------

It takes just a few hours of relentless rain to remind us that just underneath the surface of the manicured lawns, the earth is still so wild. We are all still so wild.

----------

This morning, I got half a black down the street on my drive to the gym before I turned around: even exercise is not worth risking the rivers and lakes that weren't there last night. I decided to do sit-ups by the fire and chase the little pug around the apartment; that would be my high-and-dry exercise.

----------

Just an hour or so after my gym attempt, the rain had lightened to more of a gentle crying from the sky. That river in the yard is gone, and if I hadn't had to ford it this morning, pink galoshes carrying me through, I wouldn't believe that it had ever existed. I wouldn't even believe it was a possibility in this town.


15 April 2013

and wow {a poem}




The world is drenched and then
it begins anew.
Rain falls for 40 days and 40 nights
{should you build an ark?}
Careening from the sky,
wildly exploding the gray-brown drudge
that is winter.

----------

The world has been singing a dirge and now
it begins to dance.
A staccatoed beat on the roof
and the bare branches sway in time
to the rain.
Earthworms climb out of the ground,
ready to curtsy and cavort.

----------

There's a spot up on Elm
where tulips grow along the sidewalk,
as if when you crossed the street,
you stepped into Holland.
It's rained so much, a small stream
sprang up along the curb.
Pretend that's a Dutch canal, and
you are hit with a longing to read The Diary of Anne Frank,
which is not a normal longing.

----------

But
the world is a mix of pain and beauty and wow,
it showcases both in spring.
Cold rain gives way to warm-hued blooms
and don't ever let yourself forget
the green smell of the earth as it
fights back from being frozen and drowned.


27 March 2013

5 things that prove I love Garrison Keillor




My love of Garrison Keillor has finally paid off, in the way only an English major raised on a steady intake of A Prairie Home Companion would consider a pay off:

As a promotion for his new CD, My Little Town, he's doing a "submit your favorite story about your little town" contest, and he picked this thing I wrote to publish on his site. {I'll tell you more about the thing in a minute.}



  Note several things:

  • I keep saying "he," as if Garrison is there coding the submission form. {You can see it for yourself and admire his handiwork. Such a renaissance man, he is.}
  • Or as if he's staying up past his bedtime reading submissions from people around the country who are trying to make their town sound like Lake Wobegon.
  • I mean, I realize that Garrison probably didn't actually read my poem, but I'm going to pretend. After years of listening to him him spin tales about a town that seemed so familiar and home-like to me, I'm going to pretend that he read about my little town—out loud, obviously, in that deep, nostalgia-creating voice of his—and thought to himself, 'Well, oh my, I'd like to go to this town this Kamiah girl is from. Maybe the next time I'm doing my show at Ravinia, I'll pop out to Glen Ellyn and visit her. We'd get along like gangbusters.' I just know he'd use the word gangbusters.

Yes, I'm going to pretend that my poem has now become one of Garrison Keillor's favorites.

In my mind, he's going to read it on that Writer's Almanac podcast of his someday {which I just wrote about yesterday. Garrison and I are already displaying best-friends-who-think-alike behavior}.

Please don't take my fantasy away from me, but give an NPR nerd her moment in the pale Minnesota sun that's shining down on Lake Wobegon right now.


A Little More about This Thing I Wrote

All you had to do was tell a story about your hometown, and I, in a rare moment of turning my back on Iowa, submitted a poem about Glen Ellyn that I wrote about two years ago. The carnival comes to town every year, and there is nothing like the smell of corndogs to put me in a poetry mood. {That's just the kind of statement Garrison would relate to.}

You can read the poem here on my blog.

Or, if you'd like to see it in its Prairie Home Companion glory, you can see it here. {You, sadly, have to scroll down to the bottom. I need to call Garry and get him to put my poem on the top.}

So, there you have it: Garrison Keillor is, I'm sure, going to visit Glen Ellyn soon in order to meet me. If he comes during the carnival, I would most definitely buy him a funnel cake.

The following list may help really convince him that he should come.


5 Things that Prove I Love Garrison Keillor

  1. I own this t-shirt:

    It is, for those of you who don't know {I scoff at you}, the shirt for the Professional Organization of English Majors, this group that Garrison made up and sometimes does sketches about. If it were real, you know I'd belong.

    If you're an English major and you'd like a shirt, too, you should order one from Garrison.
  2. I once met him—at Tanglewood. My family, we're kind of Garrison groupies, and we went out to western Massachusetts to see him do his show live one summer. Afterwards, we stood in line to meet him. When he heard my name, he said, "Kamiah. Kamiah. That sounds like a name that belongs in a limerick," which is not something I've ever had said to me before, nor is it the conversation I envisioned having with him, but that is all right.
  3. When I was in middle school, someone asked what I liked to listen to on the radio. I said, "A Prairie Home Companion," before I realized that I should've said, "Really awesome music that kids my age would know."

    That experience mirrors the time in elementary school when we were asked our favorite band, and I said, "Peter, Paul, and Mary."
  4. My parents go on the Prairie Home Companion cruises almost every summer. I realize this doesn't really prove why I love Garrison, but it clearly shows that it's in the blood.
  5. Someone once told me, "Your stories sound like something Garrison Keillor would tell. You're like a 30something girl version of him." I had just recently met the person, and I wanted to hug them. That is the 3rd best compliment I've ever received.




26 March 2013

early morning: the spring {a poem}




Early Morning: The Spring

In the early morning, I rise
from my bed by the window,
flannel sheets with orange flowers,
my winter set I have yet to change.

There are sometimes flowers
on the the bedside table.
There are pens and cards for writing,
and always books.

The window look out
over the garage,
and always up
into the first hint-of-day sky.

----------

Whenever I can, I listen to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac podcast, and by that I mean: when I remember to plug in my iPod and let it download all the recent episodes, I'm more likely to actually listen to the thing.

I caught up on the Almanac, as I've never called it until right now, last Friday when I took little pug on a long walk in the early spring. Every day, Garrison reads a poem, and in his voice is everything good and relatable about poetry.

Listening to him read is like being wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace. It's like the first crocus of spring, and it's like the first snowfall. When he reads poetry, you remember why we write poems in the first place: to get across a feeling, an emotion, a thought, an idea. We write them to relate to each other, and when Garrison reads poetry, I feel like all is right with the world.

During my podcast blitz on Friday, Garrison read a poem called "Morning" by Frederick Smock. {You can read it here on the Writer's Almanac site.}

And something in the three short stanzas that described a very normal morning inspired me. It made me think about what I love so much about the morning and why I always smile when I say I'm a morning person: It really is my best time of day.

So I wrote a poem in homage to that Frederick Smock "Morning," and there it is up above. I took him one better and made it about the early morning {I'm so competitive}—specifically, the early morning during spring since that's what I wake up to every day right now.

You should maybe scroll back up and read it again in your best Garrison Keillor voice. That is, by the way, the voice I hear in my head when I read my own poetry. He makes it sound so much more monumental, of course, when really all I'm doing is trying to get across a feeling.






25 March 2013

we wait for spring





Upstairs from me, a sweet retired couple lives, and on March 1, the man, Hal, declared to me: "My winter ends today."

We were standing outside, having met on the sidewalk—me coming in from my morning walk with the little pug, and he heading out to his volunteer position as the crossing guard for the local elementary school.

The first time Hal told me that he was a crossing guard, I wanted to ask him if he got to wear the reflective belt—the one that loops over your shoulder and then wraps around your waist. I remember that from my crossing guard days at Grimes Elementary, and I also remember always getting it twisted, which rather limited its reflective abilities.

I didn't ask him that but assumed he was the lucky guy who gets to hold up the stop sign and wave at the cars as they drive by.

On March 1, Hal, on his way to be a crossing guard, had on a stocking cap, wool mittens, and a parka, and yet he declared to me: "My winter ends today."

He went on to explain, "See, Kamiah, I say every year that winter is over on March 1, even if it doesn't really happen until later in the month. But I like to believe that spring comes earlier, so I just say that winter is over."

He's told me that several times since then, and I can tell he tells a lot of people that. It gets him a laugh, and there is a practiced patter to how he says it. "So I just say that winter is over," he always concludes, and then he laughs, a quick ha-ha, at his own joke, as he zips up his parka.

I find these kinds of conversations comforting in their predictability. When it comes down to it, we all have something to say about the weather, and the very fact that on March 25, I woke up to flurries is indeed something to comment on.

The sky is falling, and we are all waiting for spring. Real spring, I mean, not the kind that comes just on the calendar or when an old man declares he's had enough of this Midwestern cold and gray.

I hope I see Hal tonight on my walk with little pug. I want to tell him that this morning, I saw a crocus pushing up through the earth, dotted with snow, but there all the same. Winter is ending. It really is.














18 March 2013

things that are terrible about being sick




Here I sit in the hotel restaurant at a Courtyard Marriott in West Orange, New Jersey. I spent the night here last night, and the view out my window was into a strip mall: this place is not exactly bursting with atmosphere.

Even with both layers of curtains pulled tight—the opaque layer and then the pretty layer—I could still sense the glow of the grocery store's sign across the street.

This glow was made worse, in my mind, by the fact that I very much needed something that was located in that grocery store: NyQuil. Theraflu. Some sort of heavy but over-the-counter sleeping aid, the kind that knocks you out but allows you to wake up refreshed.

You know, medication that doesn't exist in real life—but in commercial life. On commercials, a congested someone takes a pill and wakes up 8 hours later with butterflies flitting around them and then they go on to perform heart surgery while writing the next great American novel, the one that would astound Hemingway.

I never feel that way after taking congestion medication; more often, I wake up with the sense that my dreams have kept my body too busy, but I can't quite grasp at what they were about. I am rested but still tired.

Not that I had a chance of feeling like that last night: I had some cough drops, daytime Theraflu, and a Ritter chocolate bar.

Chocolate can ease so much pain, but it cannot unclog your nose that's full of phlegm—on just one side. Why is it ever only one side? Why don't the nostrils share?

The rest of you can be a well-adjusted grown-up who's used to sharing both responsibility and privileges, but your nostrils are little babies, and they can turn you into a little baby who doesn't have full grasp of language capabilities and just wants to cry.

That's how I felt last night, by the way, at about 2:30 when I still couldn't sleep and all I could think was: Being sick when you're away from home is terrible.

Other Things that Are Terrible about Being Sick

  1. Coughing fits. For example, I just had one here in this hotel restaurant, and I had to go outside to prevent the hacking, might-be-the-plague cough from echoing off the walls. This very silent room is made worse by the fact that it's decorated to look so cozy, as if all these hotel guests are part of a large family who lives in a manor house and soon, they'll all be down to have a drink before dinner.

    There are just a few other people in the room, though, and all these chairs and couches do nothing to absorb the sharp yet phlegmy cough. If there were more people in the room, they'd at least be chattering more to hide my fit, but as it is, the three other people here looked at me like I ought to start shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!"
  2. Being sick in the winter. This affects the previous coughing fit point: When I stepped outside to cough up a lung, I stepped into snow and ice. I hear that's supposed to help open up the airways—the cold is—so I breathed in deeply. Instead of starting to yodel as if I were in the Alps and braced by the fresh air, I choked a little on snowflakes and the smell of New Jersey traffic. And then I coughed more.
  3. Having to steal a box of Kleenexes from the women's bathroom. Sorry, Courtyard Marriott. I tried to fill my pockets with Kleenex before checking out of my room, but I underestimated the number I'd need. And the napkins you gave us with lunch in one of your meeting rooms are basically sandpaper, fyi. You pretty much led me to stealing.
  4. Not being able to taste anything. I'm flying first class back to Chicago tonight, and I'll be darned if I'll pass up a free meal, even if I can't taste it.
  5. Sounding like a man. This one is really only a terrible thing if you're a woman.
  6. Fearing that you'll never feel better. I always convince myself of this when I'm sick: I will never, ever feel back to my normal self. It's especially easy to feel now as I sit in this hotel restaurant and think about the hassle of getting back to the airport, through security, onto the plane, and all the way home. All I want to do is be in my own bed, and there are so many steps between me and my pillow.
  7. Feeling you need to apologize every time you cough. My seatmate on my flight home is going to hate me. I just know it. I will start working on creative ways to apologize now.

11 March 2013

at times like this, i long for france. {or, how i wish i could take my pug everywhere.}




With a title like that—and if you, for some reason, have been following the weather where I live—you're probably thinking: Oh Lord, she's going to write about the beauty of the rain and how it reminds her of Normandie. Again.

Well, I'm not. So there.

This warm almost-spring rain does make my rather mundane town feel like it's been transported to northern France. When I'm out walking little pug in the early morning, I can close my eyes and pretend, just for a moment, that I'm walking down the Eau de Robec in Rouen, which is this little street that has a stream running down one side of it. There are cafes and half-timbered buildings and even an art studio where I often considered stopping in to take a painting lesson.


It's all in the smell of rain on pavement, I've convinced myself. That is the aroma of Normandie, and this spring rain has brought it back to me.

But if I walk with my eyes closed for too long, I will run into a tree or a light post here on my very American street named Duane and so I need to keep those urges and longings for France in check.

And dang, I just wrote about the beauty of the rain and how it reminds me of Normandie, didn't I?

Let's start afresh.


I long for France at various moments {many of them related to food}, but right now, I am longing for that ability in France to take your dog everywhere.

Dogs in markets and cafes, restaurants and, bien sur, on the Eau de Robec. The French definitely embrace that "man's best friend" aspect of dogs {even if they don't always embrace actually cleaning up after their little friends}.

Now, I am not feeling this way because I fear Miss Daisy has become lonely at home during my workdays and needs me around for companionship. I'm not even worried about how—as one of my co-workers points out frequently—I travel a lot for work, which means Miss Daisy gets to stay with various people, leading her to be confused about who her real family is.

I am her family. She knows this because I tell her all the time, when I'm not travelling, obviously. It's not like I call her when I'm on the road. That'd be weird, and I don't want to be weird; I just want to be able to take her wherever I go tomorrow.

For one day, I want to be French because I have this guy coming to install a new fireplace for me.

{As an aside, I should acknowledge that as cavalierly as I said "this guy," it makes it sound like I wandered into the DMV and announced: All you people just waiting around here, do any of you know anything about fireplaces? You do, guy over there? Great. Please come to my house next week. Thanks.

That is not at all how this happened. It's a legit contractor coming to install my fireplace, but I feel a tad pretentious saying "my contractor." I could also refer to "my interior designer," if I wanted to up the pretentiousness, but that person would really just be me, wandering around Home Depot trying to pick out tiles.}

So this guy—my contractor—is coming to install a new fireplace, and I've taken the day off work in order to make important decisions about tile placement and such.

Because I'm me, though, I keep thinking of other things I could do with my day off:
go to a cafe to write
go to Hobby Lobby when there aren't 3million people around
take myself out to lunch

And then I remember the little pug. She really can't be left alone with strangers, especially strangers making loud noises and ripping things apart. She would most definitely be a micromanager and want to stick her nose in everything. She may even try to crawl into the fireplace in order to inspect it/sneeze on it {which is a pug's version of approval}.

If I were in France, Miss Daisy could come with me. I would even consider getting her a little bag like this:

She would love it and all the old French ladies would coo over her—and I would be able to run errands.

But I'm not in France, am I? I am somewhere where I get a day of rest at home tomorrow, mixed in with loud noises and tile decisions.

Coming at the end of a couple weeks of travel, I should be grateful for this, this atypical day of rest.

Maybe I should thank my little pug for giving me a reason to just be at home without the pressure to be accomplishing anything.

As a reward for just being herself, maybe I'll take her on a long afternoon walk and pretend we're in France.




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