Monday, December 31, 2012

Wild Rabbit Chase

For reasons I will not divulge, I once chased a wild rabbit across a freeway off-ramp.


Okay, okay.

Enough with the arm twisting. I will divulge. And maybe you can help me make sense of it.


To understand this blog post, you should know that:

1. I love animals.
2. Sometimes I love animals more than I love people.
3. I once saw a cat get hit on a city street and I did nothing about it. I wasn't the driver, and I wasn't in the car, and it wasn't my cat. If I had blinked at that moment, or decided to dig in my purse for a lone stick of gum, I might have missed the whole thing. But I didn't. And it haunts me.
4. One of my MFA professors once told me, "You really have a knack for writing about dying animals."
5. I sometimes do very, very stupid things.


Also, as disclaimer, I wish I could say that this happened a long, long time ago, like when I was 12, right about the time that girls who love horses but realize they will never own a horse decide to settle for a rabbit.

Or maybe when I was 18, and doing stupid things was what I did best.

Or maybe when I was 25, when I still had a job but not yet a career, lived in an apartment and not a house, and sometimes slipped and called my husband "my boyfriend," since it was all so new.

But no. This happened when I was a full-grown, career-minded, mortgage-paying adult who had been married for more than 12 years.

In fact, it happened only a month ago.


We had just turned onto the Briggsmore overpass from Ninth Street, which will mean little if you don't know the area. To try to give this a bit of perspective, locals tend to refer to this area as the "Briggsmore parking lot," since it is often clogged with cars trying to head north on 99, south on 99, west to Carpenter Road, east to Briggsmore Avenue, or north on Sisk Road to Walmart/the mall/Target/Costco. In other words, it was a regular zoo -- even before I saw the rabbit.

Will was driving. (This is only a statement of fact, not of blame or censure.) I was happily musing over the gift we had just bought ourselves -- an eighty-year-old steamer trunk that we absolutely didn't need and probably wouldn't have room to store.

Up ahead of us, there were sudden brake lights, some swerving and a few honks -- and I realized that a van had rear-ended a compact car, and all the occupants were hopping out.

This particular van looked like something that might have toured with the Grateful Dead or Phish; it was packed with people, blankets, and the sort of household objects that suggested its occupants were permanently on the move.

Will put on his blinker, trying to avoid the two lanes that were now blocked, and that's probably why I saw the rabbit first.


My mother tells a story -- a pretty good one, too -- of a deer that ran through our residential neighborhood in Napoleon, Ohio, across a street, through a garage and into someone's backyard. Everyone was amazed: one minute there had not been a deer, and then the deer was there, and then it was gone.

It was the same with this rabbit.


When all the occupants of the Grateful Dead/Phish/Gimme Shelter van had hopped out, so too had their rabbit. ("A wild rabbit," Will would point out, if he were in my head writing this story. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

I screamed. Yes, literally. It was a largish rabbit, with giant, stand-up ears, and it was frantically hopping toward six lanes of flowing traffic.

A teenage boy from the van followed in half-hearted chase, saw the coming onslaught of traffic, and gave up. At this point, the driver had hopped back into the van, and the boy ran behind it for a few paces, grabbing at the door. You've seen this, I'm sure -- only it might have been a villain, trying to catch a handle and therefore a leg up into a moving train. But the boy made it into the van, and the van took off, and cars started to fill in the space on the road where the accident had been.

And the rabbit was still there, bewildered. Like a sitting duck.

I had my seatbelt off and had opened the door before I could think what I was doing.

Will said, "What -- you are not --"

But I was. I was out of the car, running in my black-and-white tunic, my black leggings, my black boots. "Come here! Come here!" I screamed.

I was calling to the rabbit.


I'm not exactly sure what I would have done with the rabbit if I had managed to catch it. Maybe I would have secured it in the trunk somehow and headed out to the country, popped the back hatch and yelled, "Run free, little rabbit!" Maybe I would have built it a hutch and let it live in my backyard ("No way," says the Will in my head).

But the rabbit was much faster than me, and it immediately darted forward (followed by me, panting; followed by Will, driving slowly with his blinker on) and sprinted down the right lane, crossed in front of two cars stopped at the southbound off-ramp, and ran quick-as-a (well... you know) down the embankment to a wooded area behind an I-Hop and a Denny's and a Sonic Burger.


"Paula," Will said when I was back in the car, my seatbelt fastened, my heart still pounding. He seemed to be struggling very hard to find the right words to say to me -- part-reprimand, part-consolation, part-bafflement -- and in the end, he just shook his head.

I really couldn't even tell you why, unless this was just one more sign of craziness in an entire episode of craziness, but I found myself wiping real tears from my eyes.

And wishing that rabbit all the best.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Christmas Sock Photo Shoot

Every year in the middle of the summer, I start brainstorming about what Christmas cards the W and I will send that year. This is not because I'm one of those people who feels the need to outdo herself each year -- really. But neither can I buy a pack of cards at Target and scribble our names inside them -- I just can't. For this I would like to blame my family, they of the long, newsy annual letters detailing the amazing feats of their spouses, children, and pets, and also they of the stunningly beautiful families in matching Christmas sweaters. For whatever reason, I struggle each year with our card.

For my entire adulthood, I have mailed "holiday" cards in January, around the time kids are back in school and Christmas trees are laying in sad heaps at the curb, waiting for the city disposal system to get around to them. Merry (LATE!) Christmas, and (HOPE YOU'RE HAVING) a happy New Year!

But not this year, I told myself. This year, instead of working two full time jobs, I was only working the equivalent of one, or maybe 1.2. I had time to read, to plan, to get things done.

During these months of introspection, I stumbled across someone else's idea for a Christmas card online and was quickly determined to steal it and make it my own. It was simple, yet brilliant. It said everything I wanted it to say.

I would take pictures of our feet, clad in brightly striped Christmas socks.


You see, the W and I have no human children, and renting a few for the purpose of taking an adorable family picture has always seemed disingenuous. Our pets, although quite lovely in real life, are not at all photogenic. This has something to do with their refusal to sit still in the presence of anything resembling a camera. At the sight of said camera, the cats switch into full Kitty Olympics-mode, running across the back of the couch, zipping down the hallway and tearing in and out of bedrooms, until finally coming to rest behind the shower curtain. Baxter loves the camera a little too much -- in most photos, he is a massive black nose approximately an inch from the lens.

And the W and I -- well, forget it. Neither of us loves the idea our cheesy mugs being affixed to anyone's refrigerator for any length of time.

As I saw it, this left only our feet.


We scheduled the Christmas Sock Photo Shoot for a Sunday night, in between Will's marathon weekend-of-work and our very busy Monday morning. We were exhausted and had deep, painful looking circles beneath our eyes -- but it didn't matter. That was the beauty of taking a picture of our feet.

My idea was that we would prop up our feet on our coffee table in a cutesy kind of way, snap a picture, and be done with it. First, there was the problem of getting Baxter out of the way. Then, the background (a zillion books on our living room shelves) looked too busy. I laid out a white sheet, thinking this would be a nice contrast to our Christmas socks, but then it looked like we were in bed, which wasn't exactly what I wanted, either.Finally, we stood and shot down at our feet, which involved leaning over and bumping our foreheads together at inopportune times.

The W, who is generally willing to humor me in situations such as the Christmas Sock Photo Shoot, submitted to the arranging and rearranging of our legs and feet for a good ten minutes, during which two things happened. One, I shot twenty photos, all of which were incredibly stupid-looking, and two, I realized that feet are incredibly ugly things. Also, three, I suddenly remembered that I do not have an artistic bone in my body.

"It looked so cute online," I lamented, scanning through our pictures. "Maybe what we need to do is just take pictures of our socks, without our feet in them."

We took the socks off and did a few "still life" shots against the white sheet.

"Nothing says Merry Christmas like two pairs of dirty socks on a bed sheet," Will mused, at which point I tossed one sock at his head, and Baxter grabbed the other and ran into our bedroom to chew it in peace.


Somehow, it is now December 21. Our sofa table is cluttered with brightly colored Christmas cards from all around the country. I have read the Christmas letters from my family members, marveling at the different paths our lives have taken. I have affixed pictures of smiling children to our refrigerator.

And of course, I haven't sent one. single. card.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The First Rainy Day of the Rest of Our Lives

I live in central California, where we have two seasons: summer and winter.

Between each season are a couple of weeks that I like to call "pre-summer" and "pre-winter" -- the temperature begins to turn in the other direction, leaves start to grow or fall, depending, and the thermostat needs to be adjusted, just slightly.

I told this to a friend once, a person who lives in a part of the world where there are four distinct seasons, and she scoffed. You don't have a winter! she said. You have three official seasons: pre-summer, summer, and post-summer.

And even though I know she's probably right, I'm sticking to my initial assessment.

Today it rained, and for me, that means winter is here.

* * *
Last night we slept with the window by the bed open and the duvet pulled right up to our chins. Baxter took up his customary spot under the bed, and the cats, feeling the chill in the air, abandoned their nightly wanderings to cuddle up on top of our covers. Copper prefers to sleep directly in between my head and W's, which is fine, except when he purrs too loudly or puts a delicate paw on my forehead or decides he needs to stand, circle, and find the right spot again. Which is to say, it is never fine. Roscoe is a perfect substitute for a thick pair of socks, but every now and then he pounces on one of my feet, just to remind me that he's in charge. We have a snuggle-claw relationship that is decidedly unhealthy.

Somewhere during the night, it started to rain.

"Do you hear that?" W whispered.

I did, but I made him tell me what it was, anyway.

It had been a long time since the last rain.


This morning, Baxter insisted on his walk, although it was blustery, cold, and a few stinging sprinkles were hitting the ground. I located the boots I hadn't worn since last Mach, at the start of pre-summer, and shook out the cobwebs. After a little digging in the hall closet, I found W's massive winter coat, the coat-to-end-all-coats, and slid it on. Good thing, too -- Baxter and I had only covered half a block before the deluge began.

Baxter, unhurried, made his way through the streets. I trailed six feet behind, loving how the rain drowned out the sound of street traffic and the distant, omnipresent drone of Highway 99. Leaves fell at our feet and we trampeled them, gleefully. Baxter's undercarriage was coated with a slick layer of mud -- all the dust and grit from six rainless months rising up to meet his stomach.

We had the park almost to ourselves, save for a few homeless men who had moved their belongings under the overhanging near the restrooms. One of them called to me, "Don't you know it's raining?" and I called back, "I'm loving it!" Rain has a way of bringing us all together -- homeless people, best-loved beagle, and the person who should be writing her novel instead of dithering over her blog.

At home, Baxter and I dry off and curl up together on the couch. We look out the window, where branches shake and tree limbs bow ever-so-gently.

Winter is here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Funny Thing about Saying Goodbye

I'm big on goodbyes.

When we part, I want a hug and a kiss, even if it's an awkward hug and an in-the-air, aiming-for-my-cheek kiss.

I don't want to part badly.

I don't want to think later about what I said, rightly or wrongly, angrily or stridently or stupidly or thoughtlessly.

I don't want to be haunted by the thousands of things I should have said, the words that run through my mind incessantly when I'm doing the laundry or running on the treadmill or stopped at a red light.

But worse than a bad goodbye is what I've been experiencing lately. Let's call it The No Goodbye -- one minute you're here, and the next, you're gone. It's like, if we pretend really hard, maybe we can come to believe that we never knew each other in the first place.

In the file cabinet of my mind, these people would have their own manila folder, labeled with my shaky handwriting: People I Used to Know. The subtitle would be more complicated: The People I Never Got to Say Goodbye To, and Now It's Probably Too Late.

* * *

Maybe it's easier this way, my husband says, consoling me. It's like ripping off a Band-Aid.

I see his point, sort of. It's true that, like ripping off a Band-Aid, there's no prolonged sense of pain, no dreaded anticipation of the moment. In life this means there's no chance to argue or trip over my words or work myself up into a bundle of emotions. The pain is instantaneous, and in theory, fleeting.

But a Band-Aid is not a friend. There is no love or commitment or caring between a person and a skinny strip of adhesive. And this is where the analogy falls apart.

* * *

I've tried to understand The No Goodbye over the years, and I've come to the conclusion that maybe I'm just too sensitive. I know other people who feel the same way as me; they hug hello and goodbye. They would never pass me on the street without calling out my name, or flagging me down, or dragging me into a coffee shop.

But I know other people who can just walk away, content to leaving our next meeting to a random encounter in line at a Costco, or years from now at the funeral of someone we both knew. "Oh, hello," we will say to each other, awkwardly. "It's been a long time! How are you?"

* * *

When I was nine years old, my family moved from Napoleon, Ohio to California. We'd been packing and saying goodbyes for weeks, but that last night I spent with a friend from down the street. I didn't know her that well, but we had grown closer in the last few months -- a closeness no doubt born by proximity. We hung out all day, and when it was time to say goodbye, she walked me home. We talked for a bit on the doorstep, swatting mosquitoes on our arms. My mother, consumed with hundreds of last-minute details, didn't notice that we were back. So I offered to walk my friend home, and we set out again, walking slowly back down the street, kicking stray pebbles out of the road, talking about everything and nothing. At her house, we stood awkwardly on the front porch. Unwilling to part so soon, she offered to walk me home. We did this, the slow back-and-forth down Graceway Drive, at least a dozen times, always reaching our destination before we had run out of things to say.

In the morning, I took my seat in our wood-paneled station wagon and we drove away.

I've never seen this friend again, and we've never written so much as a letter. I suppose I could find her on Facebook, where everyone in the world will probably be at some point. But what we've become since feels almost beside the point. I'm satisfied with the memory of our long, meandering goodbye.

* * *

This message isn't a goodbye from me, not yet. We have more to say to and learn from each other, more cups of coffee to consume, more paths to wander back and forth.

But maybe the time will come, and if it does, I'm fully expecting a hug. And I'm ready to offer one in return.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Thing That Lives in My Garage

Will saw a ghost when we were in Savannah.

This wasn't exactly unexpected; that's what was supposed to happen. We were on the after-hours ghost tour that took us through a humid, mosquito-infested Savannah. Approximately a dozen times I was sure someone had just tapped me on the shoulder, and I whirled around to find it was only a long string of Spanish moss.

Our group was composed of us ("All the way from California!"), a few other couples who seemed to have stumbled upon the tour, and a small horde of teenagers who shrieked loudly every other minute, much to my dismay. The experience was unnerving enough without someone hissing "Got you!" and then collapsing into peals of laughter.

Near the end of our tour, we approached "the most haunted house in Savannah" (said our guide in his spooky whisper). "This was the only time an exorcism was ever performed on a house."

No problem. By this time we were jaded to the stories of Savannah's long-dead: the murder-suicides, the mysterious tumbles down flights of stairs, the little girl with pneumonia. We snapped a few pictures with our iPhones and moved along.

At our next stop, Will reviewed his pictures. Suddenly, he grabbed my arm. A note of panic edging into his voice, he demanded, "What is THAT?"

* * *

We took a closer look at his photo later, when we were back in our B&B. On Will's laptop, zoomed in to the picture, there was clearly... something. A strange, dark, Casper-the-ghost looking shadow was clearly visible on the shutter of an upstairs window, although it wasn't visible in his other pictures or in mine.

"Wow," I said, scratching a mosquito bite on my leg. I would later come to discover that, although I was wearing pants at the time, I had forty-two mosquito bites on my legs. Talk about mysteries of the unexplained. "Are you going to eat that last cookie?"

"I can't believe it," Will said, his face an inch from the monitor. "That's just horrifying. What is it? Where did it come from?"

Sensing from the rising hysteria in his voice that this might be a very, very long night, I suggested we sleep on it.

"But how can we sleep knowing this thing is here?"

It's not here, I pointed out. It's approximately seventeen blocks away, haunting the people at that house. It's there.

Will looked at me in awe, as if not sure where this bravery had come from.

* * *

When we returned from the South, just about everyone we talked to had a ghost story. Mom woke up in the middle of the night to find the television on downstairs. In her old house, B heard people walking around upstairs when everyone else was gone. S wasn't sure if it was a ghost, but suddenly her oven, set at 350, shot up to a thousand degrees, locked itself, and roasted her Jewish Apple Coffee Cake. When talk turned to the old farmhouse, B remembered another ghost: our ancestor Adelheid, who was sometimes seen wandering the upstairs rooms.

Will was insistent. "But do you see this ghost?" he asked, holding his phone dangerously close to their retinas.

Sure, everyone agreed. But no one seemed too concerned.

That ghost was, after all, thousands of miles away.

* * *

A week ago, I was on hold with an Internet security company, which had accidentally charged me twice for the same service. Although the wait was long, I was determined not to give up and try again later. Sprawled out on the couch, eyes closed, elevator music wafting from my phone, I heard a sound from the garage. Now, I'm scared in general of our garage, due to poor lighting and landscaping implements that cast long shadows. A few years ago, to remind myself, I posted a sign on the door: "Enter at your own risk, and never after dark."

But this was a very recognizable sound. It was the washing machine, which had just started a load.

"Hello?" I called through the door leading from our kitchen to the garage. "Is someone out there?"

Nothing; only running water. Armed with a fairly dull chef knife in one hand (but still, stupidly, clutching my phone in the other), I swung open the door. As I saw it, there were two possibilities: someone had broken into my garage to do laundry, or I had a ghost. No one was there, but the washer was humming merrily along, water sloshing around in its empty drum.

A ghost, then.

I locked the door carefully behind me, returned the knife to the rack, and began to consider my options.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Visit from the Happiness Fairy

Where have I been?

Living -- and enjoying every minute of it.

It's funny, but I woke up this morning and realized that I've turned some kind of corner. What I realized is, I've been so anxious and tense for so long that I haven't been able to enjoy life. I was seeing my day as one long checklist of things to do, and taking no enjoyment in doing any of the tasks.

Of course, I was also accomplishing this massive to-do list at a breakneck pace, which simply couldn't be sustained. The crash was coming -- and hit hard.

When school -- both my day job and my night job -- ended the last week of May, I was really too stunned to enjoy it. I didn't have as much to do but I did it anxiously. Walked the dog anxiously, read anxiously, pounded the treadmill anxiously, folded the laundry anxiously. On the rare occasions when I saw friends, I coudn't even sit still. My mind raced. Every 20 seconds or so, I took out my phone and added another item to my to-do list.

In the last two weeks, I've rediscovered relaxation. I've indulged in daily naps. I've read a dozen books, picking up whatever interests me at that exact moment. I've spent ten, fifteen minutes at a time doing nothing but petting Baxter and listening to him groan with happiness.

Yesterday morning I sat on our back patio with a glass of iced tea and listened to the sounds of the neighborhood, grinning like a fool. Last night, six of us sat around the same table, draining three bottles of wine and telling fantastic stories, ranging from squid sperm to Stephen King to our favorite series finale episodes. (The new me is even willing to forgive the others for not agreeing that it's absolutely, hands down, the last episode of M*A*S*H.) Meanwhile, Baxter dragged water bottles from the recycling and crunched them in the yard.

At some point it occurred to me that life was pretty much perfect.

This morning, once my wine-induced haze faded, I knew I just needed to enjoy it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Travels With Children, Part I

Every year of my childhood, we took an extended family vacation. These much-anticipated events never involved airfare, and only on two occasions included the word "Disney." Mostly, we packed our earthly goods into a station wagon and took "the scenic route" to visit relatives in a nearby state, or sometimes, on another coast.

Having recently traveled with nineteen teenagers, I have developed a new respect for what my parents went through each summer to transport my three sisters and me around the country without losing any of us or, presumably, their minds.

Dad's job was twofold: to pack the car and to drive it. The packing may well have been the hardest part of the trip, but it was a task that appealed to Dad's meticulous personality. I remember him standing in our driveway, the four doors and the back hatch of the Caprice Classic station wagon flung open. For a long, long time, nothing seemed to be happening. But you would be a fool to really believe that. While he smoked one cigarette after another and circled the car, Dad was actually plotting the exact storage space for each item we were bringing, including small spaces like the glove box, door wells, back-of-seat flap pockets, and - for particularly long trips - the tortoise shell car top carrier.

He warned us each in advance of the rules: one pillow and one suitcase apiece, plus one small bag that must be carried on our laps, without complaint, for thousands of miles. He wasn't only planning how things would fit, but when we would need to access them - that night at the hotel or a week from now, when we arrived at our destination? Mom added to the mix a cooler with cold-cut sandwiches for the first day and fruit for a week or so, plus various bags of breads, muffins, cookies, trail mixes, and anything else that might serve the dual purpose of pacifying us and limiting our stops at the Golden Arches.

Mom's job, as far as I could see it, was to keep us from bothering Dad. Kicking or digging our knees into the back of the front seat was strictly prohibited, as was whining, arguing, elbowing, or insisting that someone had crossed the invisible boundary line into "my" space. Although our trips did not usually involve complicated directions ("Stay on I-80 for approximately 2,000 miles"), an unstated part of Mom's job was also to unfold the road map or open the atlas and produce our exact location on demand -- a human precursor to GPS. This was mainly necessary because one of my sisters or me always needed the bathroom, and also because my mom had a third eye for the tiny brown historical markers that announced an incredibly educational (aka, boring) experience was close at hand.

Mostly, the trips were long, the scenery across the Plains pleasant but unvaried. This was not before seatbelts, but before there was any sort of law about them, which really made the act of being a passenger far more pleasant. We could sit three or even four across in the back seat, or divide ourselves between the back seat and the way back seat, where we sprawled on opened sleeping bags.

We didn't have DVD players mounted at a convenient viewing height, or handheld video consoles, or iPods or cell phones, or for that matter, the ability to charge anything. We had Muzak and talk radio. My sister D, who had saved babysitting money for her entire life, had a Walkman and some Michael Jackson, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson tapes, none of which the rest of us were allowed to touch, on pain of death or serious nail-clawing. We had the License Plate Game, which we played faithfully for thousands of miles, and the Alphabet Game, and word searches, and decks of cards, and books, and random sing-a-longs led by Mom. I had a spiral-bound notebook, too, so I was able to record every thought in my head. Is it any wonder, with the lack of other stimulus and so much time to think, that I became a writer?

S and I, who generally occupied the Way Back, amused ourselves by writing notes on binder paper and holding them up to the window whenever a car passed us (which wasn't often, particularly on long stretches in Nevada and Wyoming). Help! We have been kidnapped! These are not our parents! We also had an all-purpose HONK! sign for trucks, which, accompanied by the universal pull-chain hand signal, produced positive results more than fifty percent of the time. If the people in these cars and trucks, who had the temerity to go faster than fifty-five miles per hour, ever expressed shock at the sudden appearance of our dirty-blonde heads against the rear window -- they hid it well. Fellow road warriors, they were generally unsurprised by our loaded-down station wagon and unmoved by our claims of kidnapping and abuse.

D was always the first person out of the car at rest stops and gas stations; we depended on her to return to the car and report to us on the design and general cleanliness of the public restrooms. "They have little individual slices of soap!" she might report excitedly, or else instruct us to move on, that it was better to get a kidney infection than risk this particular locale. B slept for nearly the entire drive each day, a full-on, zonked-out sleep, which due to chronic adenoidal problems, meant that she spent the entire day with her mouth gaping open -- a frequent target of tossed peanuts and sesame sticks. I was fine on the flat, tedious stretches of highway (like the 400+ miles across Nebraska), but developed a tendency to carsickness the minute we encountered any type of curve in the road, and therefore was ordered to ride with a plastic bag in my lap. S, on one particularly long journey, carved her name into the plastic molding in the Way Back, thereby eliciting Dad's wrath and reducing the car's no doubt promising resale value. Since this was the only time S misbehaved during her entire childhood, this fact simply could not be ignored, and had to somehow work its way into every conversation.

Dad and Mom liked to put in long days on the road, so the four of us girls figured it was our duty to negotiate for ourselves the best possible sleeping arrangements. These were never destined to be great, with six of us in a room designed for four and our rather tight budget, but there was always the possibility of a hotel with a POOL. My parents, otherwise law-abiding people, were intent on saving the surcharge for extra occupants, so we had to take turns appearing in the lobby for the continental breakfast and at the tiny, over-cholorinated pool. Still, it was a thrilling experience. What would the bedspreads look like? What color would the carpet be? Would the vanity and sink be outside the bathroom (ideal for five females and their various hair issues)? Would the remote control be bolted down? Would the pillows be fluffy or hard?

Along the way to wherever we were actually going, we managed to fit in quite a bit of sight-seeing.
We saw: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse; the Pony Express station in Gothenburg, Nebraska; the Cracker Barrel in Tennessee; the birthplace of Ronald Reagan in Tampico, Illinois; Temple Square in Salt Lake City; the Wisconsin Dells; the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Michigan; a jewelry stand in Albuquerque, where B's entire life savings of $2 was lost (stolen?); Chapel of the Bells in Las Vegas; a carrot factory; an orange factory, from which we date our love of those heavenly Sunkist Gems; Yellowstone; Old Faithful, where S "accidentally" almost pushed me into a bubbling hot spring;  the Grand Canyon (Will insists that the GC story must be told in more detail, and I agree -- for a future post), which inspired a lovely crayon drawing by B; a train trestle in Green River, Wyoming; and, coming and going, dozens of signs for Winnemucca, Nevada and Little America, Wyoming.

Somehow, we always made it home, most of our belongings intact. The house always had a quiet, empty feeling at first, when we flopped ourselves down on the couch and tried to take it all in. This only lasted for a few minutes; there was a station wagon to be fully unpacked, a not small mountain of laundry to washed, and, much later, next year's vacation to be planned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Minutes from May 29 Trivia/Drunkfest

7:15 - W and P arrive late, mostly due to P's decision to curl hair at 6:45. G and A already present, although for unknown reason W has difficulty identifying them whilst in plain view.

7:16 - P notes that G has brought a large binder with him, as if he is intending to accomplish work during Trivia/Drunkfest. P laughs.

7:20 - Guinness is served!

7:25 - P deliberates between FBA Chicken Sandwich, which is sometimes dry, and Buffalo Chicken Wrap, which is always messy. Buffalo Chicken Wrap wins out.

7:26 - G orders the bangers and mash. There is some discussion of haggis, and also a warm reminiscence of a Scotch egg. P mistakenly calls this a Scottish egg three times, and is corrected three times by W.

7:28 - W orders the Love Burger. Asks waitress if it is pronounced "love" or "loooove" in the vernacular. Waitress blushes.

7:29 - P reports on Ripon gossip, pleased that for once she has Ripon gossip A does not know. G and W are relatively unimpressed.

7:30 - First round of trivia begins. It is a literary-themed round, but much to the chagrin of three English majors and one faux-English major, we fail miserably. P believes that the longest sentence in a novel can be found in Madame Bovary; it turns out that it can be found in Les Miserables (which P can be forgiven for, never having read the book). W misses a question on The Godfather, and must turn in his Mario Puzo fan club license. P's fave question: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote that a man must do four things to prove his manhood. What were they?" P and G's answer: Shoot an elephant, run with the bulls, catch a big fish, drive an ambulance. Suprisingly, these are incorrect.

7:45 - P takes three happy bites of Buffalo Chicken Wrap, and on the fourth bite the tortilla completely disintegrates. Murky smear of buffalo sauce now adorns white shirt. P makes mental note not to be fooled by deliciousness of BCW in the future.

8:00 - A couple enters and sits at a nearby booth. A and G have direct views of couple and begin to speculate on couple's relationship. Blind date? First date? Date not going well? The girl has trouble deciphering the menu (although it is written in English and conveniently divided into categories such as "Appetizers," "Burgers" and "Pasta") and earns the adjective "vapid" from W. P wonders if "vapidity" is a word, and if it can be applied to the entire situation. W discusses "levels" as applied to this relationship. Girl, who is not unpleasant looking, is a "level up."

8:05 - G asks for Spurs/Thunder basketball game to be put on the big screen and is rebuffed.

8:15 - Second round of trivia begins. Effects of Guinness beginning to be felt, W, P, G and A are hyperconfident, despite scientific theme of questions, including one about "the part of the brain which determines physiological stability" and another that could be either kidney or liver, but which of course will be the answer we do not choose. We estimate we have 8/10 correct.

8:25 - In reality we have 4/10 correct. The winner -- a nurse -- has earned a 10/10. It is decided that being a nurse is as good as cheating with an iPhone, and P wonders about the possibility of medical professionals being assigned a trivia handicap.

8:30 - W reveals that he has already had two beers prior to two pints of Guinness, the direct result of friend C being in town. P agrees to drive home and orders a Diet Coke.

8:39 - P realizes that she has been kicking G under the table for some time, mistakenly believing his calf is a table leg. P is too embarrassed to apologize.

8:45 - Asian member of rival trivia team, long dubbed The Dream Team, comes over introduces himself in the spirit of friendly competition. After he leaves, W, P, A and G speculate on the name that The Dream Team may have for us. Each suggestion is more unflattering than the last.

9:00 - A reveals burning desire for ice cream cone en route home, and it appears that G is involved in said pursuit of ice cream. P realizes she will not be able to attend next meeting due to being in Washington D.C. with 18 adolescents. Moment of silence is observed.

9:15 - Exiting the building, A and P encounter two girls coming in. A says "vapid" under her breath, and A and P collapse into decidedly non-vapid giggles in parking lot, mostly prompted by A's comment: "That's the great thing about vapid people. You can call them vapid and they don't know what it means."

9:16 - Hugs all around.

9:17 - Adjournment.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Something smells in the back of our refrigerator -- something way back, behind the Oikos and the little tubs of cream cheese and the mayonnaise approaching its expiration date. It hits me every time I open the refrigerator, and I recoil, and fumble around for what I need, and close the door, and do nothing about it.

Will hasn't mentioned it to me, but he must have smelled it, too. And done nothing about it, too.


Baxter smells, too. He's gone from sweet puppy smell to "I'm a dirty boy" smell in a very short period of time. I try to reason with him: But you just had a bath! And then I realize that this isn't true. Time has been passing at a rate I can't understand or appreciate. At home, my Eiffel Tower desk calendar is set on January 15. Baxter's last bath was somewhere around Easter, when my niece was visiting and requested some one-on-one beagle time.

Hang in there, sweetie, I tell him, carefully not inhaling his scent. Only four more days.


Teaching, I sometimes think, is like running a marathon. I have no experience with marathons, of course, but I imagine they each require a sustained effort, focus and determination to reach the end. I also imagine that marathoners cross the finish line and feel at least a moment of "What now?" If you want, you can collapse at that point and never run again. This is how I'm feeling right now with teaching. I just have to make it to the end, and then I can crash.

I can clean out the refrigerator. I can bathe the dog.


It's been a year of forgetfulness, really, a year where I've been so busy I felt like my head was doing the Exorcist spin every few minutes or so. Last weekend, I sat down for an hour-long dinner with Will's family and I was a nervous wreck -- it was the longest I had gone in months without grading a paper or sending an email.Twice in a row I forgot that it was Thursday and Thursday was trash day. Once I took Baxter for a walk and left my house keys behind, locked in the house. Six years of walking the dog at least once a day, and yet I somehow missed this crucial step in the process.


It's not lethargy that keeps me from cleaning the fridge; these days I'm too high strung to appreciate down time for what it is. It's more like ADHD, adult-onset, severe. I've been trying to do everything at once, like a jack of all trades (and master, needless to say, of none). My friend A said once that I was trying to juggle too many things at once -- one mixup, and everything would come crashing down on my head.

The culmination of my crazy life happens tomorrow night, which is both nightmarish and symbolic. I need to be at a community college in Stockton at six for my students' final exam; I need to be in Lathrop (fifteen minutes down I-5) at seven to read names of my eighth graders for their graduation. All week, I've woken up in a cold sweat just after four in the morning, which is apparently the time my brain issues the command: GO! So I do. I shower and blow dry my hair and check my messages and feed the dog and get dressed and pack my lunch and make a list of about fifty things I need to do before sleep that night. So far, nothing has come crashing down on my head.But the possibility is there.

Four days from now, I'll wake up at a normal, non-teaching time -- 5:30, say -- and read the paper and delay my shower for another fifteen minutes and window shop at RueLaLa and be so thankful that I've made it.

I've crossed the finish line.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Best Intentions

I come from, more or less, a musical family. My three sisters and I play the piano (with varying degrees of efficiency, true); we all play another instrument, as well. My parents, in their new home, have a "music room," which houses a piano, organ and dulcimer, as well as the old sheet music I take out every now and then: Thriller; Sunrise, Sunset; What's it all about, Alfie?

My high school yearbook trumpets my accomplishments: Four years of concert band, three years of grad band, four years of pep band, four years of handbell choir, four years of singing in the Winter Music Ensemble. You would have thought I was destined to be a musician.

And yet, and yet.

I harbored a deep suspicion for most of my childhood that I was really not good at music. That in fact, if my piano teacher hadn't needed my parents' $20 an hour, she would have cut me off after a single lesson.This belief was bolstered by the fact that my sisters seemed to have talent; the best any music teacher could say of me was that I had an excellent work ethic. My band teacher told the story -- may still be telling the story -- of how I lugged my massive alto clarinet case to and from school on the bus every day as proof that a little bit of effort goes a long way. But he never complimented my sense of timing or my tone.

This had much to do with the fact that while I took my instrument home each day, I rarely opened the case. I had such good intentions! And, secretly, a poor work ethic.

When I think back on it (which is almost never, except, for some reason, it is today), I think I understand why I eventually stopped being a musician and started being someone else. I was a great dabbler; I loved to page through my piano books and try out the top hand of something by Bela Bartok, and then start in on Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover." I really didn't care about learning to mastery. In addition to my too-long fingernails, this drove my piano teacher insane.

"Again," she'd say, and then, "Again." And then, suspiciously, "How many times did you say you practiced this piece?"

I always felt horribly guilty at these accusations. I was wasting my time, I was wasting my teacher's time, I was, worst of all, wasting my parents' money. For a day I would stick to the pieces I was supposed to practice, the Minuets and Odes and Sonatas, and then I would grow restless and instead pick my way through "Wind Beneath My Wings"or the theme song from "M*A*S*H".

It was the same way with my music classes at school. My teacher, for unknown reasons, was obsessed with campfire songs. I must have sung a million times this nonsensical string of syllables:

Sarasponda, sarasponda, sarasponda ret set set.
Sarasponda, sarasponda, sarasponda ret set set.
A doray-oh, a doray boomday-oh.
A doray boomday ret set set, ah say pa say oh.

From there it was "Greensleeves" or "I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle..." -- words that have left indelible impressions on my life, no doubt. In the car, in the shower, I sang whatever was on the radio, trying out different keys, imagining I had the range of a Mariah Carey.

And in my bitter seventeen-year-old heart, I thought, So what if I am untalented and undisciplined?

* * *

I'm feeling the same sort of restlessness right now, working on a revision of my novel. It's hard for me to stay on the page -- it's fiercely tempting to scoot away from the document for a few minutes to ogle shoes I'll never buy or play a 57-pointer in Words with Friends. Today I opened a new Word document and just wrote and wrote. It felt fantastic. It also felt like infidelity.

If there's ever been anything that I have to do "to mastery" -- it's this book, and in my cheating heart I know it. It's not enough for me to carry my laptop around, to open it at random moments, to type loudly and importantly. I've got to put my nose to the grindstone and the pedal to the metal, and no doubt a host of other cliches. And I will. I absolutely know I will.

Right after this game of solitaire.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I have overdosed on caffeine exactly twice.

The first time, it was at the Queen Bean -- the coffee shop where I initiated this blog. The exchange seemed innocent enough. I'd ordered a hazelnut something or other, and the barista said, "You want all four shots with that?" Me (thinking 'Why not? It's early, I've got work to do...'): "Sure."

It didn't hit me for an hour or so. For a while I was zipping right along with my writing, and then all of a sudden, something happened. I started to get panicky. I couldn't hit the keys fast enough, or with any sort of accuracy. I stuttered through a few sentences. Everything around me seemed too loud. I started thinking about my impending deadline, and how much work I still had to do, and how I am not typically a person who does well under pressure, which led me to think that maybe the whole story should be scrapped.

Well. I closed my laptop and called it a day. At home, I went on a cleaning binge.

The second time went much the same. This is because I'm a slow learner, and hadn't fully made the connection -- until it was too late, and the caffeine was working its magic. I then proceeded to do two things you should never do during a caffeine overdose:

1. Drive a car. It was a completely surreal experience -- everyone was going too slow, and the traffic lights seemed to operate with random timing. The dulcet tones of Terri Gross were irritating; I wanted to reach through the dashboard (and time, and space) and take her by the throat. I tapped the steering wheel, then pounded it. I jiggled my knee, whacking it against the steering column. Really, it's amazing I made it home without driving straight through the car in front of me.

2. Pluck eyebrows. Enough said.

The strange thing is that I am an admitted caffeine junkie. It used to be Diet Pepsi; these days, it's unsweetened tea with sugar-free lemonade -- my own version of an Arnold Palmer -- which I brew each morning and suck down straight through dinner. I hit Starbucks twice a week; three or four times in an absolute emergency. I have been known to pull into a drive-through on my way home from night class to grab 32 ounces just to keep me awake. This would be at 9:30, when I fully intend to be snoring by 11. But apparently mainlining small doses of caffeine is nothing compared to the sucker punch of something with "all four shots."

This week, I knew I was going to have serious "time management issues" -- to borrow a phrase from the lovely Tim Gunn. I had research papers to grade, lessons to plan for, an event at my house, a night class to teach, things to bake... and incredible amounts of caffeine to consume.

I might have overdone it a bit yesterday - Starbucks plus an unscheduled stop at a quick-mart when my students left for their half-hour music lesson. Exhausted, I leaned one arm against the wall as I walked down the hallway at work, carefully sidestepping a zillion backpacks. At one point it seemed my eyes weren't working properly -- I read the same sentence five or six times without being about to pick out all the words. At home, it was straight to bed.... where (wait for it... wait for it...) I couldn't sleep. Suddenly, the caffeine from nine hours earlier had kicked in.


This morning, there is a bit of commotion in bed -- suddenly, neither of us has the right amount of covers, and both of us have a deep suspicion that the other is hoarding our share. We stop, regroup and remake the bed in early-morning darkness. Baxter, who is blissfully unaware of the powers of caffeine, stops by to visit. He had a tough day yesterday, too -- a long walk and some serious playing with his new toy. But now he is wide awake, up on the bed with me, licking my face.

I glance at the alarm -- 5:53 on a Saturday morning. It takes a good five minutes to accept my fate, lumber my way to the kitchen, and pour a cup of coffee.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ironing Out the Kinks

When I was eight or nine years old, I learned how to iron. I recognized it for what it was: a rite of passage into womanhood, and also an additional, unending chore that I would start that day and never, ever finish.

"We'll start with pillowcases," my mom declared, handing me a freshly laundered stack. This is how I grew up: No matter what was going on in our lives, we placed our heads on starched pillowcases each night. My mother was from Detroit; for long years, I entertained the idea that this was the typical behavior for people from Detroit. It was comforting to think of an entire city slowing down each night so the women could iron in the luminescent glow of the television.

Beginning that day, I started ironing just about everything, down to my t-shirts and tank tops. Like my mother, I didn't see wrinkles as a natural state. I saw them as an abomination.

The late '80s was a time of starched shirtdresses, and I came of age at just the right time. My first real job? Ironing clothes for a woman down the street whose entire wardrobe was 100% cotton right out of the Spiegel catalog.

I brought a miniature iron and ironing board with me to college and used them fairly often, at least my first year in the dorm before I shed cute lacy blouses for borrowed flannels. My roommates must have seen me as an oddity -- Sarah unpacked not an ironing board but a full-sized playground swing, which we hung from our loft. Others contributed an espresso machine and about five million packets of Kool-Aid.

When I met Will, it was safe to say he had never ironed anything. Once, on a dress-up occasion, he arrived wearing a new shirt. He'd removed the pins and the cardboard collar form, but hadn't bothered to launder or iron the shirt. "Do you like?" he asked, turning in a slow circle. There were so many stiff creases in odd places that he could have stood in for the Tin Man.

I sighed, already manuevering the ironing board out of the hall closet, and ordered him to strip.

These days, the ironing board is a permanent fixture in our lives. We have an office with a desktop computer that we never use, and instead, we more or less use the space as a laundry room. I hang clothes to dry in there, and Will douses his work clothes with liberal sprays of Wrinkle Release -- but still, we vie for use of the iron in the mornings, never seeming to plan far enough ahead to iron for more than a day at a time. It's not unusual for us to argue over who needs the iron first, who needs it more, etc.

There is no sedate ironing in front of the evening's reality shows; no I'll-iron-it-on-the-off-chance-I'll-dress-up-this-week. The chore I once learned with pride has become just a chore. Most weekends, in fact, I refuse to iron at all.

And the pillowcases? Sorry, Mom -- they're wrinkled as anything.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Assorted Noises

Will doesn't mean to cough so loudly, or so often.

That's what he tells me, anyway.

It seems curious that a person would have to cough with such regularity (every two minutes or so) and at such fantastic volume.

"Be reasonable," I plead with him.

"I'm sick!" he replies.

It seems like we are talking about two different things.

* * *

We have arranged to have the interior trim of our house painted, which amounts to a dozen doors, window casings and lots of 1940s-style molding. "It's probably best for me to take the doors off, sand them down and paint them. Maybe I could do that in your garage?" Dave, house painter extraordinaire, asks.

"Um," I say. "That might not work."

"Why? Do you have a lot of stuff in there?"

I consider. "Have you ever seen Hoarders?"

He laughs. "Well... let's see. I could take the doors off, bring them back to my place, and work on them there."

We shake on it. The doors removed, our house has a strange, echoey sound to it. I'm not particularly bothered that the mess in my hall closet, where I store our extra toiletries, is on display. It's actually kind of nice to wake up in the morning and be able to look directly into our walk-in closet. But it's somewhat disturbing to go through life sans a bathroom door. (Read here for more on my feelings about bathroom etiquette.)

Will and I have taken to announcing when we'll be in the bathroom, turning up the volume on the TV when necessary, and using the restrooms at our respective places of employment.

It's only temporary, thank goodness. And sort of an adventure -- the closest I'll probably come to camping.

* * *

For Christmas, Will bought me noise-cancelling headphones. I'd requested them, mainly because I do the majority of my writing in public places, and I like to be able to drown out some sounds. Also, no doubt because they don't know me, random people like to strike up conversations with me about the weather, their grandchildren and their parole issues. I love to be able to point apologetically to my headphones and shrug. Whoops -- I missed what you said, and sorry, I'm not taking off my headphones.

They work marvelously.

And they've arrived at just the right time, since at this exact moment Will is in the bathroom, hacking away.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ten Proofs for My Continued Existence

1. I just took three Advil. I feel pain; therefore, I am.

2. Library books returned, $16 fine paid, audio book of David Copperfield renewed.

3. My dog has been spotted in my neighborhood with a blonde woman in fake UGGs.

4. Persistent Starbucks charges on debit card totaling $4.35.

5. Long hair in the sink, tub and drain.

6. 92-point word, JUTES, played against my father.

7. Name paged over intercom at work repeatedly during 5-minute passing period.

8. Someone "window shopping" on routinely fills my shopping cart with size 9 shoes.

9. Folded laundry, paired socks.

10. Novel manuscript continues to grow, little by little. Currently: 105,000 words.