Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Here

My Mom left me a note on FaceBook asking where I was, because although I'd said I wasn't going to necessarily stick to the daily blogging anymore, it had been THREE days!  And to be honest, I didn't really mean to skip so many days, the weekend just sort of flew.

Chris left Friday for a conference in the States, and is likely still in Chicago visiting Darrell, Emma, and Grampa John as I type this.  It's a lucky thing that the conference is being held only a few hours away from his brother, niece, and grandfather and I'm glad he got to spend some unexpected time with them.

I never sleep well the first night he's gone, because that's when it's the quietest in the house and most obvious that I'm alone.  Well, aside from Heidi and our friend, Bull, who is staying with us for a couple weeks.  Lucky for my peace of mind, our friend is about eighty pounds of muscle and fur, sweet to friends and grumbly (with teeth) toward strangers.  I rented a couple romantic comedies, the ones Chris will no longer humor for me, and made popcorn, cuddling up until I absolutely could no longer keep my eyes open.  That's the only way I fall asleep when Chris is away the first few nights.

I didn't have to spend the next night alone because I drove up to Heidleberg to spend some time with Penny and Jacob.  And lucky for us all, their cat, JJ does get along with dogs.  We talked for hours upon hours, between dinner at the park so Jake could play, and lounging in their apartment thinking we might get around to watching a movie.  Silly us, we should have known it'd been too long since we'd hung out and the talking would not cease until one of us had passed out from exhaustion.

It was really great to see them :)

As Heidi was up and down all night, confused about where she was, so was I.  When we go home Sunday, I tried really, really hard not to fall asleep on the couch.  Really.  But the tireds had me and I was powerless to their lull.  I think I was out for over three hours.  After that, it was time to start cleaning up this messy house.  Always messy, but with Chris gone, I don't have anyone to talk to or hang out with for so many hours more than I'm used to, I tend to fill that time with productive activity.  I didn't even think about the blog, shame on me!

Today I took a trunk full of recyclables to base, returned two movies and got two more, bought a decent lawn mower, oil, light bulbs and curtain rods for the kitchen, and actually vacuumed!  Crazy, I know.  The ugly, metal blinds in my kitchen are now gone, replaced by light, white curtains.  The dishes are washing and I managed to fit in a potentially scary movie while it was still light out to keep from taking fresh images to bed with me to freak me out while I'm trying to go to sleep.  Smart, right?  I didn't get to several things I wanted to this weekend, but I imagine it won't be hard during the week, as my evenings will not be occupied by hanging out with my husband.  As with all things, it's good and bad, and I'll take advantage of what I can while I've got the opportunity.

I think this has been a rather boring post, but this was my weekend.  Nothing monumental has happened and I haven't experienced any Earth-rattling revelations.  I've got some work to get to this week, which may take the place of a few nights of blogging, but I'm still going to be around, throwing words out for all to see.  Hopefully some of them will be good.

Happy Memorial Day.  Thanks to all those who support freedom.      

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Zoo

Today my class at school visited the Stuttgart Zoo downtown.  The rain held back most of the day and the clouds made for a cool and comfortable day as we made our rounds to the various animals the zoo has to offer.  I will say the gardens throughout the zoo were beautiful and I could see returning in the summertime to enjoy them in sunnier weather, but it was hard not to feel a little sad for the animals.

It isn't that the grounds weren't well-kept, or that the animals appeared malnourished or abused; quite the contrary.  The monkeys swung and played, the lizards ogled the kids, and the tigers and pygmy hippopotamus snoozed, but it was the pacing that got to me.  Having walked by the leopard cage without a sighting, the kids and I took a stroll through the viewing rooms that run behind the length of several cages, giving a glimpse into the holding spaces for the animals.  The series of caverns rooms were empty, one after another, until finally we came upon that which sits behind the leopard's outer habitat.  The cat was amazing and beautiful, but she paced back and forth the twelve feet or so of length available to her in her tiny, glassed-in cage.  The girls squealed and wowed at the sight of her, and I, too, appreciated her, but it broke my heart how she paced.  Walking and walking with nowhere to go.  I couldn't tell why they had her blocked from the outer area of her cage; I hadn't seen anyone cleaning.  At one point she growled a series of ground and cage-rumbling complaints, startling us all.  It made it even worse, because it truly seemed like a plea and I just wanted to find a way to send her back to her homeland.

And it wasn't just her.  The polar bears and the enormous brown bear paced, as well, walking the same path along the water before the semi-entertained spectators over and over in some kind of broken daze.

The only thing that usually makes me feel any better about viewing captive wild animals is if their being in the zoo is what's keeping them alive.  Many zoos get their inhabitants through ways of rescue, and that, I can appreciate much more than those which pluck these gorgeous, wild creatures from their rightful places in the world so we can look at them safely.  It isn't that I don't have an appreciation for education and exposing our kids to the amazing and exotic beasts of the world, but forcing them to live out their days in small, synthetic patches of jungle or Antarctic beach seems cruel.  Now I'm not the type to run around throwing red paint on women wearing fur coats (though I don't agree with fur), and I'm no vegetarian, but nonetheless, it's difficult to ignore the fact that a cage is a cage, and I don't know anyone who'd enjoy living in one.

As we walked from cage to cage, peering through bars and over walls into the pits which kept the animals at a safe distance, I often wondered what they think of us.  Here are these strange, furless, bipeds walking by in lines and clusters, staring and pointing at them as they go about their days.  I wonder if they think us rude.  Wouldn't it be nice, especially for the ones who have known no other life than this, if they saw us as some sort of traveling and ever-changing zoo of faces and sounds, brought in daily to break up the monotony and amuse them.  What a lovely, reciprocating relationship that would be.  I'd still feel better and would be better able to enjoy the wonder of the zoo if every animal were a rescue or attempt to propagate the species, and maybe we'll get there.  But for now, it is what it is and at least everyone's reasonably safe, if not free.

Sorry for the least the insect habitats were spacious!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coming Soon

I think once school is out for summer and I've got more time to devote to more creative ventures, I'm going to officially pare down the blogging to a few times per week.  This isn't because I intend to become lazy with regards to writing, I'd just like to place more focus on other writing projects and I want the freedom to lose myself in whatever it is I'm working on.  If this blog is jumping around in the back of my head trying to remind me not to forget to write on it, I'm likely to become distracted and pulled away from the work I'm doing, and I don't want that to happen.  I can do it.  I can pull back without abandoning, altogether. I just have to keep saying that and it will be true.

I may or may not be picking up a little freelance work, but I don't want to jinx myself before I even get started, so that's all I'll say about that.  And I need to get back into fiction writing, set goals (or revisit them from January), and start submitting actual work for publication, and I need to spend time with old work in progress before I lose the interest in it completely. Or it in me.  Then there's the photography project I'd like to begin concerning the new techniques I'd like to try out, inspired by a certain artist we met in Saint Remy, France.  Eventually, I'd like to add a new dimension to this blog through photos of other creative attempts, so it's time to start thinking about a new schedule for the summer.  Between travels, visits, and the get-togethers required to maintain relationships.

So thank you for the reading you've done so far, and I hope you'll continue to do so even when it's no longer daily.  I'm so grateful, and rather surprised, that anyone reads my ramblings at all!


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time Burglars

I've always been told that I'm quite easy to talk to, that I make people feel comfortable and not judged.  That I'm a good listener.  I may not be able to keep my own secrets, but I'm usually walking around with a host of other people's skeletons locked safely inside, never to be revealed.  Don't get me wrong, I can TALK, but when it comes time to shut up and take the downpour from someone's day, I'm usually a good call.  I like this about myself most days, because I know how important it is to me to be able to dump out the details of certain experiences, be they wonderful or frustrating, to someone with a compassionate ear.  If we're friends, I will listen to you cry yourself out, and I will be there to offer advice or keep quiet and give you a hug, whichever is needed.  Loyalty means something to me when it comes to those I love.  When it's a good friend, it's never a case of burgled time.

But as with all things, there is more than one side.  Every blessing seems to carry also a curse, and this is one of mine.  It's been happening lately, that as I'm walking out the door, often having perfectly portioned my time to get to wherever I'm going just when I want to, I am caught.  A polite hello snakes its way around my upper arm, clamps on, and I am stuck, listening while trying to appear engaged.  Smiling while inside, I'm squirming to free myself from this unending, one-sided conversation.  I feel like this makes me sound awful, but there are days when I just need to go, and suddenly all patience to indulge other people's problems, their gripes and their opinions about - whatever it is - has stepped out the door ahead of me and is waiting outside, tapping its fidgety foot.  I can hear it tapping its foot, and all I want is to scream out, "Stop burgling my time!" and run away.  Obviously it depends on the person and the situation, but like I said, lately there have been more time burglars snagging me like an unsuspecting trout.

How do I politely interrupt something obviously important to the person talking and go on my way?  I don't know how to do that.  What I do instead is stand there for as long as I can handle not looking at the clock, then when the chance arrives, take a quick glimpse and then freak out that I've just lost 20minutes and will now be late, rudely interrupting with an apology and bolting.  Not so polite when I let it go that far, I know.  How do you tell a person with whom you work or see daily in other places, that you just can't listen anymore? Sometimes when I'm screaming inside my head with boredom or the need to flee, I wonder if this is some sort of punishment for me, because I've been known to hold a person or two hostage in conversation they clearly want to be free of.  It's not something I realize at the time, but once it registers, (and the hostage has successfully fled) I feel quite embarrassed.  Are these people serving me up a dose of deserved Karmic time burglarization?  Perhaps.

But it still frustrates me, and suddenly I understand why some people keep their heads down and avoid real conversation in certain places, like the halls after work or post-workout in the gym locker room.  I need to take a note from them, while working on my own tendency to ramble on, and on, and on.  This, sadly, may never change, as I come from a family of talkers who leave out nary a detail, whether conversation revolves around last night's dinner or an up-coming trip.  Either way, I believe I'm going to start being less friendly and accommodating when it's time to go.  Call me selfish, just don't call me a time burglar!  (And I'll do my best not to deserve the name.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Kelly

I've just gotten off the phone with Kelly, another easy hour or two spent talking about anything and everything.  Addison, my gorgeous Goddaughter, is acting like "such a two-year-old," she tells me, testing the range of things to which she can apply the word, 'no,' and practicing her skills in drama when she feels she's not getting the attention she requires.  She won't be two until July, so it's clear - she's already mature for her age.

Between the garden variety gripes and stresses about getting into better shape, her husband not realizing how demanding the job of Mother is (at home or otherwise), and just how hot it is in Florida already, we discuss the event that creeps closer each day:  Her trip this summer.  Kelly is finally coming to Europe to see us, and we're both bursting at the seems with excitement.  A few months ago, all of our 'what if' and 'wouldn't it be fantastic if' conversations took a turn and became the 'when you're here' kind.  For three weeks it'll be Lindsey and Kelly time, all day, every day, and I can't wait.

Kelly and I met at UF in 2000, when she moved into the third and final bedroom in our apartment.  My original roommate, Stacey and Kelly had a mutual friend who passed along the info that Kelly was looking for a new place.  We had an open bedroom, so there is was.  We didn't click straight away, as Kelly was more the outgoing, gorgeous, Sorority type, while I was the rather quiet and shy, studious type.  But over time Kelly discovered that Stacey tended to wade more in the shallow end of the pool, and as she and I began to talk more, we realized a very deep connection.

When I think back to my college days, even though Kelly and I only lived together for maybe one year, total, she will always be my college roommate.  Sure, I lived with several others, and had friendships with most of them, but her and my time living together encompassed the very best time in school.  My third year, we lived in an apartment complex called The Laurels, and walking into our place, you'd think you'd accidentally wandered into the home of a couple of divorcees; her style has always been impeccable.  During the time we lived together I know I was certainly the healthiest I've ever been, even now.  We worked out 2 hours every day, between power walks, late night visits to our complex's little gym, yoga, and good old Tae Bo with Billy Blanks in the apartment.  We cooked together, and therefor, ate quite healthy, while keeping tabs on each other's indulgences.  When we studied, we often studied together, though we took different classes.  With our books and notes spread across the dining and coffee tables, the productive vibe in the air kept us both focused until it was time for a much deserved break.  But aside from all the discipline we inspired in one another, there was also a lot of creative energy in our place.  Many days she would paint while I wrote and the energy in the apartment would buzz across our skin; those were my favorite times.  I think that's a big part of what first drew us to one another, the artists inside.

I don't believe it's easy to find someone we truly love and can actually live with harmoniously wrapped up in the same person, so I am so happy to have two in my life:  Chris and Kelly.  We have always said that had we been born differently, we would have made the perfect couple :)

And for three weeks late this summer, we'll be roommates again.  We've already talked about what kinds of things we'll cook together, where and when we'll be sure to get in workouts, and how nice it'll be to just pretend to live together again.  Of course there will be some travel; a few days in Venice and Verona, Italy on a girls trip, and day trips scattered throughout her time here, but what I'm most looking forward to are the mornings.  Coffee on the front deck in the soft morning sun before it gets too hot, yawning and talking about the day to come.  It helps that there is a mutual love between Chris and Kelly, and that for a time, she played Mommy#2 to Heidi, so adores her, as well.  If only she could've brought the baby out, we could've played the Polygamy Family for a few weeks!  But seriously, Chris was around, too, when we lived together and knows exactly what to expect, and he's the one who suggested a girls trip for us, so there you go.  Harmony.  And a pretty wonderful husband.

I can't wait - 62 days to go!!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spring: A look back

Having first moved to Europe in the spring, our first trip was perfectly timed to take us to the Keuknhof Gardens in Holland.  Spring means everything is blooming in most places, including this amazing collection of gardens.  Unfortunately, spring is taking its sweet time this year where we live, so I'll take this opportunity to reminisce about a much warmer and colorful spring six years ago, our first overseas.

It was late April, one month to the day since we arrived on the Continent, and a few friends were planning a trip to the Netherlands, specifically to see Amsterdam and the Keukenhof Gardens.  We lucked out in that we were just in time to jump on and tag along, making this our first weekend away.  We'd just moved into our first apartment in the small beach town of Tirrenia, Italy, and were excited to start traveling.

We flew up to Belgium on one of the wonderful, budget airlines Europe has to offer and rented a car for the rest of the trip, spending the first night somewhere along the way to Amsterdam in Belgium.  I remember sitting down for dinner at the hotel restaurant, and after being ignored for a little while, our server dropped a stack of menus at our table and continued on her less than hurried way.  This restaurant accommodated its international guests by having menus in various languages, and ours were in German.  I guess we had a German look to us, being four blond women and my husband, all with light eyes, and perhaps a little short to be Dutch.  When we waved down our server and politely asked for English menus, it was as if the icy outer layer melted away and she jumped with a smile to serve us.  That was how I first learned that there still exist hard feelings between some nations of Europe because of World War II.  I guess coming from a place so far where the only contact with this world is via history books makes it difficult to imagine the real life effects of such horrific events.

The next day belonged to the amazing city of Amsterdam, where I have to admit, I was surprised by the simple and innocent beauty of the place.  I suppose when all you know of a place is that there you can legally get high and purchase sex, it's easy to overlook the possibility that it might actually have some history and beauty.  

The quote across the building:
"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
 One clover, and a bee,
 And revery,
 The revery alone will do,
 If bees are few."
                   - Emily Diskinson

My favorite museum in the city, and quite possibly the world so far, is the Anne Frank House.  If I'm being honest, I'm not crazy about history and I tend to become quickly saturated in even the most amazing art or history museums, but this House held my attention all the way through.  Maybe it was because I walked the same floors that helped to hide this famous journaler's family not too many years ago, climbing the same steps of the hidden staircase that took them to their refuge.  Maybe it was because it was the first time I was experiencing such a personal piece of history about which I'd learned in school, standing, breathing and being in the very place where Ann stood, breathed, and was.  I've since visited the Louvre, the Prado, and the Vatican museums, to name a few, but the Anne Frank House remains the one that touched me the deepest, reducing me to silence and the need for solitude as I walked between its walls.

Of course we also visited the Van Gogh museum, the Red Light District and the Hard Rock Cafe, against Chris and my better judgement.  What we did not understand just a month into living abroad, but would come to appreciate after a more suitable amount of time passed, was that after living in such a place as Italy for a while, a place where the people are very proud, and rightly so, of their exquisite cuisine, one starts to miss the variety other places in the world offer.  Italian food is some of the very best I've ever had, and boasts a rich respect and love of wholesome food, but sometimes you just want sushi, or Mexican, or even a big, juicy, hamburger.  Enter Hard Rock and its all-American menu and drinks - with ice!  Our travel companions would not have us lunching anywhere else, and as Chris and I were the newbies, we were in no position to argue.  So we slightly begrudgingly ate our burgers and fries and tried not to feel cheated out of a chance to experience something of the Dutch palette.  

PS - We get it now.

The following day we drove to the Keukenhof Gardens.  On the way we kept an eye out for the tulip fields for which Holland is known, and in an attempt to capture one such field from the moving car I accidentally captured this instead:

There's some perfect timing.

Upon arrival to the Gardens, we paid our entrance fee and did not emerge until nearly the end of the day.  They were expansive and they were immaculate, the colors seeming too bright and rich to be real.  These are among my favorite photos from that day.

Red and White, the colors of our wedding a few months earlier.

This one makes me feel tiny.




Dear Spring, please come to Germany and bring with you days and days in a row of sunshine.  We've missed you.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Talent in the Blogosphere

I've made a new friend recently and she told me a little about a blog she's been thinking about starting.  Suzanne is a photographer and has decided to put together a food & photo blog called ShutterCook, in which she'll photographically document herself cooking various recipes, to include the good old, family favorites.  This is something she tells me has been in the works for a while, if only in her plans, but now it's time to jump in.  I was excited to find not only another creative soul with whom to connect, but someone else stepping out into the Blogosphere.  I've taken it upon myself to be her pusher, her nagging supporter as she begins this project because I so appreciate the pushes I got from some of my friends when I first set out.  So as I sat down tonight to write a little something, I decided it would be nice to do a little PR work for my fellow bloggers, because there's a lot of great stuff out there, so why not spread it around a bit?

So be sure to check out Suzanne's blog at which she tells me she'll be officially posting to any day now, by Monday if not Sunday.  I can't wait to see what kind of delicious dishes she'll be walking us through :) and the wannabe photographer in me is also looking forward to the visual aspects of her blog, too.

Another blog I'd love to help get out there is one of a fellow writer and friend, Liz Gaiser.  Her blog, documents her life as an American ex-pat living with a German husband and their bi-cultural kids.  She's a talented writer and quite a comedian, humorously recounting the culture-clashing incidents of daily life.

Christine Steinmann's blog, details the journey of her own, personal growth.  Christine is another American living in Germany and has traveled to many places.  She's a friend from the Writers in Stuttgart group, like Liz, for whom I have a lot of respect, both personally and as a writer.  Be sure to stop by.

Want another great photoblog to walk through? Visit Jim's at for some beautiful photo work and writing to match.

Claire's contribution to the blogosphere is located at and again, she is a talented writer I happen to know and respect, living here in Germany as a foreigner and currently working to find balance in a hectic life.  Great, great read.

In the mood for an Edu-Blog?  Visit Karenne's where this writer and teacher shares her wisdom and vision of the world of learning and teaching English.  Her blog is one for teachers and offers limitless insights into creating effective learning environments.  Karenne is also the founder of the Writers in Stuttgart group, and a writer and woman whom I personally admire.

I hope none of these guys will mind this bit of promotion, I just feel we can all use a little push here and there, and these blogs are excellent contributions not to be overlooked, in my opinion.  I love seeing the different ways we employ blogs in our lives, to further a plight or develop a skill, it's all a glimpse into real people's lives.  Perhaps that's the lure: Voyeurism.  But it's also an extension of the life of the blogger, a piece to be intentionally shared, like the blogs of a couple of my close friends here that I did not advertise.  Farrah and Sara blog to keep family and friends across the world in the know of their lives here, like places visited and their children's feats.  This Blogosphere thing is really something, and has certainly (and unexpectedly) done a lot for me.

Happy reading, and happy blogging.


* I wrote this one night while in Virginia, unable to sleep.  It must've been 2003.  This may very well be my first blog-worthy piece of writing, so I don't feel bad posting it so many years later.  As for tonight, it's been an awfully long and trying week, and I'm nowhere near where I was on this particular night.  Goodnight.*

I’ve forgotten how to sleep.  I lay awake, eyes held open by invisible fingers, figuring there must be some kind of technique we pick up as we go that I’ve somehow misplaced for the time being.  Insomnia.  Or worse yet, some innate knowledge, something I’ve just flat out lost for good.  When you actually think about it, how do we go to sleep?  How do we make that decision to lose consciousness, especially if we’re not passing out tired?  I’m befuddled.  And I’m tired.

I can hear the neighbors getting up to go pee in the middle of the night.  Slamming toilet lids.
I can hear the wind pushing the tree next to the end of the building, the limbs dragging monster claws across the roof just over my head. 
I can hear the tap, tap, tapping of my pet rats drinking from their water bottle in the other room.
I can hear the building and the foundation settling.  Random cracks.
I can hear the wind blowing the vent over the stove.  It’s loud and for every clank, my heart throps.
I can hear the trains as they approach, then rumble solidly by, shaking the bed.
I can hear the tub faucet drip, drip, dripping on the other side of the wall.
I can hear car breaks and sometimes the blow of a horn somewhere nearby.
I can hear something that sounds like a gunshot when I’m feeling paranoid, and a car backfire when I’m not.
And in all the in-between moments I can hear the heavy silence, absent of even a ceiling fan to give me some kind of rhythm to follow, blaring in my ears.

It doesn’t matter how long I lay in bed, eyes clamped shut against their own will.  Not if it’s like this.  Not if I’m just awake.  Last night I lay for five straight hours, didn’t even turn on the TV to occupy my buzzing mind.  That does help sometimes, though, giving my brain a rest.  It gets going and when insomnia hits, too, I go crazy because I just need a brain break.  I just need to stop thinking.  TV works well for that.  I’ve become accustomed to 2am Charles in Charge, and sometimes some old movie on TBS.  Something to stare at while my body figures out how to shut down for a few hours. 

But last night, nothing.  Just me, darkness, and all the noises that prick my sensitive ears all night long.  I never remember falling asleep if it actually happens before 6am, either.  I lay there for hours, trying concentrating on breathing, or fantasizing, something to occupy my mind in the kind of way that sometimes tricks it into slipping off to sleep.  I lay there, failing for hours, then suddenly, out of nowhere, for absolutely no reason, I just drop off.  I don’t even feel it coming like normal sleepers do.  That deepening heaviness that kind of tugs at the back of your brain until you start to float.  Nothing.  I’m annoyed one second, then it’s morning and I never once got to feel the sweet lull of drifting off.  It’s just cruel.    

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Day After

After being up through the night with her, Heidi had a visit with her vet this morning and she's going to be fine.  Dr. Dauner (pronounced just like 'downer,' no kidding) looked her over, gave her a couple shots to help her feel better faster, and sent us home with some soft food and a new pill to give her for daily anti-aging help.  Something to do with her head.  We like Dr. Dauner, so we took it and were happy to be headed home.  I was happy because I no longer feared she was going to die from this event, and she, because we were no longer in his office.

On our last visit, Heidi had to be muzzled for the first time in her 15 years.  She's not a big fan of the doc, and honestly, I wasn't either at the start.  But his very cut-to-the-chase, semi-cold, yet efficient and effective style turned out to be the German in him, so we forgive.

I've got to sleep a little now that everyone's okay, but I wanted to thank Christine and Mom for your prompt concern for Heidi's well-being.  Christine, it was a surprising and comforting thing to find your emails overflowing with helpful information from your days at the veterinary clinic; I only felt bad I read them too late last night to call you and thank you then.  You will now be the first person I contact when there's a question to be answered regarding my dog child.  And Mom, I sometimes forget how much you love Heidi, and how you were part mother to her, too.  I'm sorry I got you so worried, but thanks, in the same breath, for that.

Heidi's out on the floor, and off I go to join her.  Good night.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Wall

Sometime after I left for the gym and before Chris left for work this morning, Heidi found herself a little treat.  Carelessly left in a plastic grocery bag on the kitchen floor from yesterday's trip, our little old lady discovered a bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels, which I planned to throw into a loaf of banana bread I'm making for my co-workers.

When I got home from work this afternoon I became immediately concerned that Heidi didn't greet me at the door.  When I saw her laying on the rug in the living room, clearly seeing I was home and seemingly unable to stand, a little bit of panic began to fester.  I noticed a yellow piece of chewed plastic bag as I knelt beside her and scanned the kitchen floor as I stroked her head and scruff.  She burped as I gently scratched her, and what would normally knock me back in a gag of terrible death breath floated up to my nose in a cloud of chocolate warmth.  This dog was sick - still is.  I found the partially consumed bag of said morsels on the counter, so there was slight relief in the realization that at least Chris had discovered this mishap and removed the offending chocolate.  I carried her outside whenever she made the effort to wobble toward the door, but besides that, she's pretty much just been sleeping, which is probably best.

Chris got home from work while I was on the phone, venturing up the stairs where I still had yet to go.  When I hung up and he asked me if I'd seen, I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, but assumed I would soon find a royal heap of chocolate mess when I followed.  What I found was worse.  Not only had she littered the upstairs hall with brown paw prints from stepping through her own sloppy pile of mess, she had somehow managed to splatter chocolate sick, most likely from her tail end by the look of it, all over the wall at the landing between floors.  On the wall.  How?  How does an eleven pound dog achieve the height she achieved with some of that organic graffiti?  The angle she must have had to take...I just don't understand.  How?  And will I be able to scrub it off without repainting?  I cannot believe I left this poison in her reach, and won't allow myself to imagine the possibility of it causing the kind of permanent damage that would take her away from me.  So we'll watch her tonight and not fuss when she gets sick further, because really, it's my fault and I feel awful.

As for now, we've got quite a mess to mop up, so that's where I'll be until American Idol starts, at which point I will be sitting still for a whole hour without thinking.    

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I'm allowed to have an off day, right?  Not off, as in I forgot or didn't get around to blogging (like this past weekend), but off, as in it's been a crappity-crap-crap day. And I don't believe anyone should have to lie about having a bad day because everyone has bad days, so we can all relate.  I've never been good at hiding it anyway.

Can I start by venting, carefully since I know there are some young and impressionable eyes possibly reading this, about the start of my morning?  For all the people in the world who appreciate others with whom they work, especially those who regularly go above and beyond their assigned duties to make your life easier, let it be known that pointing your finger at said colleague with wild eyes and exclaiming that they had better have really been sick the day before, before a good morning can be uttered is not the optimal morning greeting.  I assured her that I was, indeed, under the weather and then just kind of stared at her while she explained the Murphy's Law of a day that I apparently missed.  She had, after all, been counting on my being there to keep things moving.  I am such a jerk!  What a way to start the day.

And if I call you and ask about possibly hiring you to do some much needed yard work, being fully up front regarding my ignorance when it comes to how much these things run, and you evade the question and ask me to make you an offer, please don't act insulted when I offer a reasonable amount you don't like.  Really.  If you never intended to negotiate, please don't flat out tell me you will.  And please don't, in the face of my first naive offer, tell me to go talk to my husband and get back to you with what we're willing to pay you first, because honestly, it makes you come across a little less honest than I first thought.  What's so difficult about being straight with people, especially since had you been true to your word, we probably would have ended up paying you more anyway.  And now you're out a job and I still don't want to tame my yard, so everybody loses.

Am I being petty?  It just feels as if I've been spoken down to all day and frankly, I don't much care for it.  If I was the type of person who talked down to others or behaved in a way deserving of such rudeness, then I'd suck it up and move on.  But I'm not.  I'm damn nice, so why is it so easy for some people to spit all over that?

Okay.  I'm done.  Sorry for the grumbling.  Happy Tuesday.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Round Two

This is a short but necessary blurb about tonight's reading downtown with the Writers in Stuttgart.  With nine reading tonight there was quite a spread of diverse pieces and tones, voices and images conjured.  I must say it was a rather packed house and I do believe we delivered.

We learned from Karenne the history of the English language in cool verse that made the educational the utmost fun.  Claire introduced us to a chapter from her longer work-in-progress, entitled Jack, that left us wondering what new vice he's found to quiet his demons.  Jim entertained, improvising with the Starbucks emblem hanging in the window, acting out his version of a Greek tale to which anyone whose work is never done can relate.  Then it was my turn, and with what felt like a bright red face, I quickly introduced myself, tested the mic volume, and did my best not to speed through.  Cindy shared a story about Germans traveling to Greece, and we all laughed at the cultural nuances therein.  Liz kept things light and funny with another story about her very opposite from her Schwabish husband, and the adventures of neat freak German meets (and marries) loud, American slob - her words, not mine.   Christine lead us through the intermingling worlds of two women, one living here in Germany as an ex-patriot American, and the other still living back in Haiti as a Peace Corps worker, experiencing January's tragedy.  Her work is fiction but based very much in real life, and hers.  Ken wowed us with two short pieces of poetry, and I found myself utterly lost - and loving it - in his amazing imagery.  Ending the evening was a quickly thrown-together song by Tiffany, thanking those in attendance and inviting them back again next year, same time, same place.

The kind words from my friends in the writer's group, as well as those from people I do not know made me blush.  I loved it!  It amazes me that I can stand up in front of real life people and speak into a microphone without passing out from the nerves.  Public speaking and I have never been close, but I think these readings are igniting in me the desire to get to know this long-feared, for lack of a better word, thing.  Not only did I not stutter or totally lose my place while trying to make eye contact during my reading, I was actually so bold as to gesture with my hands for emphasis, albeit a little stiffly.  I think I might have even enjoyed standing up and sharing a piece of my writing self with the quiet and focused faces stretched out before me.  Very weird.  Very exciting, too, since the very thought of such things is quite out of character for me.  Yea for personal growth!

Walking in tonight I was overcome with stress and jittery nerves, but by the time we left, I felt completely revitalized.  The affirmations a writer receives at such an event, especially one attended by good friends, are heart-lifting.  Thank you, Sara and Diane, for making the trip downtown on a Monday night to be a part of the audience tonight.  Thank you for your support and your words of encouragement and the pride you take in me, as your friend, as I pursue what I love.  Seeing your faces in the audience kind of wrapped around me like a fuzzy, reassuring blanket as I stood alone in front of you all.  And thank you, Chris, my partner in all things and my best friend, for supporting me in so many ways, and for showing up every time.  I'm so grateful that I found you, and more so because I'm aware of just how lucky I truly am.  How many people have what I've got at home?  I will always try to deserve that.

The mush is almost over, I promise...I love all of you guys so much, and it means the world to me that I matter to you, because you are such fantastic people.  I am a very fortunate person to have you in my life, and to get to be a part of yours.

Esslingen Weinwanderung 2010

Sunday, May 16

The Esslingen Wine Walk.  It's an annual event where anyone who enjoys the outdoors and a nice glass of wine can meet up with friends and hike up into the vineyards of this charming town, sampling wine that comes from the very vines they pass.  This was Chris and my second time taking part and it was a blast.

Though the day was cloudy and a little chilly, we were thankful the rain stayed away.  Walking through these vineyards was a peaceful experience, assuming you could ignore all the bustle of fellow hikers, as it was a rather crowded event.  But the bustle, too, was something to be appreciated.  The happy chatter of friends was the soundtrack to this day, and who doesn't like that kind of music?

We got to Esslingen around 12:30 and met up at the base of the hike path with the Wisneski, Leadbetter, BonDurant and Robbins families, as well as Ashley and Suzanne.  With children and puppy dog in tow, it was time to start the hike.

Wendy and Kyle's oldest baby is fifteen, like Heidi, so Guinness enjoyed the hike in style.  

Grace and Eve having a dandelion war in the vineyard. 

Wendy (Grace's Mom) and Chris at the start of it all, wine glasses already filled and nearly emptied!

Diane and I squaring off with the cameras.
Oh, and the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us on this fun day, as we walked the paths that took us up above the town.  Nice, huh?

It seemed we kept losing each other as we walked on, and half the time it was because someone had run into someone else they knew who'd come out for the Wine Walk, too.  Friends and co-workers abound, the wine was flowing and the good times, too :)

The Robbins to the left and Chris trying to photobomb behind Sara and me.  Isn't she talented?

Chris, lovely, sweet Diane, and I, taking a load off and enjoying wine and some snacks along the way.
(Is that Sara on her iPhone back there?  Probably sending Farrah in the States a picture we just took.  We missed you, Farrah!)

In the end, the Weinwandertag was a lovely excuse to get together with friends and enjoy a little bit of something that the land has to offer here.  I believe we got back to the car around 10pm, so needless to say, it was a fun day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Old Spice and Peppermint Sticks

Tonight Chris and I were talking about how I shouldn't just continue my song list, the soundtrack of my life from earlier in this blog.  And although there are many more songs I could list, he's right.  I should take it in another direction if I'm going to inspire memories from myself.  So I thought about smells, tastes, sounds, etc., and in doing so, I kept finding myself circling my Papa.

The smell of Old Spice is my Papa.

I loved going into the bathroom of their house after he'd showered, because it was warm and smelled heavily of Old Spice and shaving cream.   To this day, the smell of Old Spice brings me instantly to tears. 

Born in the early 20th Century and leaving us in 1999, Grady Melvin Little gave me a lot in the short nineteen years we shared time on this earth.  I loved him dearly, but I wish I had gotten to know him better before he left. I wish I would have had the mind to sit down and ask him every question I've come up with since it stopped being a possibility.

The crunch of soft peppermint sticks is my Papa.

Whenever we visited Grandma and Papa for Christmas there was always a tin of those soft peppermint sticks around.  That was the only place I ever saw them, so I believed he made them.  I liked sucking them to brittle shells, then crushing them in my mouth, delighted by their willingness to be crushed.

My Papa used to work for the railroad in Alabama, and so for years lived in the type of housing that lines the tracks, out away from town.  My mom told me stories of she and my grandmother waving down the train to hop a ride into town.  He also served in the US Navy, and gave some years and some fingers for his country, and I'm sure much more.

Fireflies are my Papa, because every summer when we made the twelve hour drive to visit our grandparents, I knew there would be plenty of fireflies to chase and catch at dusk in the yard, and along the edge of the woods behind their pretty, yellow house.

His mother lived to be 102 years old, and he, himself, fought against death when he had a quadruple bypass and was given little chance to live much longer.  First they said he'd never wake up, but he did.  Then they said he'd never walk again, but he did.  And then they said he would wear himself out quickly, but that he did not do.  He hung around nine more years, and received the nickname of Lazarus at the hospital where he did all his defying.

My Papa loved baseball, and when I was young, self-conscious and quite sensitive, he told me I favored Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves.  I believe it was the same day when he made the comment that I was "gettin' big all over."  Although my mom later explained that he only meant I was growing up, I took it to mean that between the two declarations he'd made, he'd told me I looked like a fat man.  I remember crying over that, but I was never mad at him.  My Papa was a very southern man, and had a way of speaking I sometimes couldn't understand, but loved to hear all the same.

The smell of loose tobacco and a freshly blown out match is my Papa.

He used to smoke cigarettes before I can remember, maybe before I was around, but quit those and took up smoking a pipe.  When I got a whiff of that sweet smell and heard that familiar strike of a match, I raced into what was usually the kitchen to blow it out. I wasn't trying to blow it out to keep him from smoking, I wanted to blow it out after he'd used it in order to help.  I liked seeing him smile.

For a while I was the youngest grandchild, and so he called me Grandbaby.  I loved that, and so when my mother's younger sister had a baby, Brandon, I was concerned I'd lose my title.  I didn't.  Papa continued to call me his Grandbaby, even when it was no longer entirely true, and it always made me feel special to him.  If memory serves me, while I was en route from Florida racing his clock to make it to his ICU room in Alabama in time to say goodbye, he asked where I was.  His Grandbaby.  I didn't make it in time, and was gutted because of it, but when my mom told me he'd asked about me, that he thought of me before he slipped away from us, it somehow soothed the pain of that goodbye.  Because he knew how much I loved him, and he thought of me.

The moon is my Papa.

In the sixth grade my best friend and I decided to name the moon.  We named him Melvin, and although Lizz and I are no longer close, and sometimes tripping over memories from our friendship makes me a little sad, Melvin will always remain a reason to smile.  I don't recall knowing Melvin was Papa's middle name, but how interesting that that was the name I brought to the table, the name we chose.  These days looking up at night and seeing the bright moon makes me think of Papa, too, and I like that.  I'd like to think he's not far from where I'm looking then, and thinking of me, too.

I wonder if he knew how many things he was to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Little Surprises

It's difficult to come up with something to recall in words every single day when the days tend to mirror each other.  My friend Amy's comment in the beginning was sound, that blogging would force me to look for something meaningful in each day in order to have something meaningful about which to write.  The problem is, I'm not always in a place to be able to sit back and appreciate the smaller, more beautiful details and moments that, if I paid close enough attention, I would surely find sprinkled throughout each day.  Although life is surely beautiful and mine is rather fortunate, between keeping up with keeping my students up with their school work, exercising my patience muscles to the point of fatigue, and trying to remember that fun learning is the most effective kind, I know I miss a lot.

But there was a moment this past Monday that really got my attention.  It was a nice little surprise.  I was basking in the five minutes of solitude I'd managed to snag between students, sitting at the table in the pod, the small room between four classrooms on our hall.  It was only 11:15am and I was already feeling tapped out for the day when it came to my patience level.  It had been an especially frustrating morning with a few kids in class, and I was feeling empty of ideas as to how to tame their incessant chatting and unwillingness to listen.  I was scribbling something, a grocery list, the week's To Dos, or a calendar to organize plans for the up-coming months, I don't remember, when a particular student opened the door from his class, my usual class.  He looked concerned.  It should be said that this student has the ability to frustrate the most seasoned of educators in record time, and tries his hand at bringing me to my knees many, if not most days.  He's a sweet and creative child, but let's say he's got his work cut out for him when it comes to focus and self-control.  So he walked in and I looked up, catching myself sighing already.  He asked what I was doing in there, and I told him, simply enough, that I was doing something before I went to my next class, and that he needed to get back to his.  Then he told me he missed me when I wasn't in class, and that he just wanted to be where I was.  There are days when this child practices his manipulation skills in order to get out of class work, to waste time and to hold your attention.  This wasn't one of those times, and it totally made me smile.  After a moment of questioning whether or not I was following the right career path, that which will often include attempting to inspire kids who don't seem to care, in walked one that reminded me of why it's worth it.  Because there are kids who pay attention, and kids who notice your efforts.  There are kids who listen, and there are kids who walk in and surprise you and make your day better.  I told him thank you, he gave me a hug, and I sent him back to class, assuring him he could work without me there, and that he needed to.  "But thanks for brightening my day."

That was Monday.  I hardly remember Tuesday, and yesterday was our trip to the Special Olympics, which go its own entry.  Today I didn't really think yesterday took anything extra out of me until about 10 o'clock this morning, when one moment I was listening to some students read together, and the next, my head had fallen into my hand, lazily propped up by my elbow, my brain slowing to a sluggish crawl.  Thursday happened as Thursday always does, and when I got home, after letting Heidi outside, checking e-mail, and typing up a few responses, I passed out for an hour.  THAT is worth mentioning because there is little else that can beat a solid and unplanned nap on a day such as this, when the tireds grab a hold and there is little hope that they'll let go.

So what do I have to say today?  Thank all that is good for sweet ten-year-olds and after work naps.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Our Olympic Champions

Today was a long day.  At the school by 6am to get everyone loaded up and situated for the 2 and a half hour drive.  Cold, overcast, windy day outside with capris on- stupid me.

Today was also a fantastic day.  We got there without issues of potty or behavior, and every child was rearing to go. Aside from a couple of nude surprises, it was a pretty non-eventful bus ride up.  Somehow, even though we were all sitting within a seat of one another, little, quiet Kay managed to undress herself in her corner seat without anyone noticing, aside from Pam sitting next to her with a rather startled look on her face.  When Lloyd, my co-worker glanced over and realized this, his hand instinctively flew up to block his peripheral vision, and he called Kathy.  When it became clear that Kay was missing some underpants and Kathy asked her where they were, Kay quite matter-of-factly said that Mrs. Lawson took them, another co-worker on the bus.  So of course for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the school year, Mrs. Lawson may very well be known as the "Panty Stealer" when it's just us around.  Of course Mrs. Lawson did not, in fact, take anyone's underpants, but it's funny anyway.  Not five minutes later, with Kay dressed again and Kathy sitting right beside her, Alley nearly got her pants off without detection!  Maybe they were hot?

We met the kids' "Buddies" for the day's events, walked in the Athlete's Parade, and listened to the German and American national anthems sung across the playing field.  We laughed with a little bit of pride, I'd say, when "our kids" did something cute or silly, and shouted and cheered, clapping our hands and waving our arms like crazed cheerleaders when they raced and played.

I wish I could post pictures of these kids, but safety and confidentiality in-tact mean I have a job tomorrow.  Take it from me, they were awesome.  Just in case there's an issue with using real names, I'll use fake ones.

Blake had two Buddies, and gave them both a run for their money.  You see, our Blake is what we call a "runner," and he is very small, but very fast.  It was nice to be able to rock back on or heals and laugh, cheering him on instead of jumping to race after him, when during the opening remarks he decided to make a dash for it, pushing through the forest of legs and crossing out onto the track that encircled the field.  The place was fenced, guarded, and Blake had two grown men running after him, so it was all good.

Alley also lucked out with two Buddies, as one of our kids called in sick today, both of whom were in love with her immediately.  Alley also tried her hand at providing running practice for her Buddies, but luckily, she doesn't have Blake's speed.  By the end of the day, Alley was posing with her ribbons, lifting her arms in triumph to our cheers, and running in circles.  Experience told me this meant she was exhausted.  I think she was out first once we were all on the bus again.  Snoring.

All the kids earned ribbons for the races and games of which they were a part, and the medals at the end just topped off the excitement like a big, fat cherry.  In addition to the competitive events, there were non-competitive games and arts and crafts tents for the kids, and even motorcycles to sit on, a fire engine to explore, and a train to ride.

Once loaded up on our coach once more, nearly everyone was snuggling into their seats and drifting off.  That was until Blake started acting a little funny, grabbing his tummy and starting to cry.  Lloyd said it looked like Blake might be sick and asked if we could pull over.  While the driver worked on that one, there was a scramble to locate and open up a plastic bag.  That's when Val, the boss of the classroom and the kids' Special Ed teacher unzipped her insulated lunch box, removed the plastic shelf that sits inside to hold further contents, and handed it back.  "I won't need that back," she said simply.  I was thoroughly impressed, to say the least, because we didn't know for sure what might be going into that lunch box container, as sometimes Blake's stomach can't keep what he eats, and we were sure something solid would be coming out momentarily, and likely before we could stop.  What a lady, huh?  Luckily the bus did stop in time and Lloyd and Blake jumped out, running toward the bushes away from the road hand-in-hand.  It turned out it was just a really bad - and sudden - need to pee, and we laughed from the bus at the sight of it from behind.

It was certainly a long day, but I'd do it again tomorrow.  These kids were so great and we all had a fun time together.  Superb job to Blake, Alley, Kay, Maria, Pam and Will!!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Your Story is Ready

* I must acknowledge the fact that I did not blog yesterday, and briefly explain what I was doing instead - reading, editing, re-working, and stressing (a little) over what the piece I would (and did) read at tonight's reading downtown.  So there.*

Tiffany wrote up quick blurbs identifying the night's line-up of readers and a taste of what one might expect from each in coffee lingo, Liz printed up posters and folded above said blurbs to set out on all the tables upstairs tonight at the Calwer Strasse Starbucks, and the rest of us showed up and did our best to entertain.  I must say, we rocked it. Each piece was totally different and greatly satisfying to listen to, so bravo to us!

The second reading is next Monday and I cannot wait.

And having written this much, I'm off, for I've an early start to a very long day tomorrow.  You see, we, my co-workers and I, are accompanying our kiddos to the Special Olympics tomorrow out of town.  Without traffic, we're looking at eleven hours.  Eleven.  I adore my student, but wish me patience anyway.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Also, Happy Mother's Day

Hi Mom!!!  HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!  I love you and I miss you and I hope you're having a fabulous day!!!  For all you do to keep me in your daily life, let me know you miss me, too, and support me from afar, thank you.  Gary, Tracy and I are lucky to have you for our mom.

And to all the moms, a happy day to you.  Thanks for everything you do to ensure the health, well-being, and security of your children, have they opposable thumbs or wet noses.

Getting Ready to Read

Yesterday was our writers' group meeting for May, and the final get-together before our upcoming readings at Starbucks for the American Days events in Stuttgart this year.  Half smart and half evil, this month's host decided to hold our meeting not in its usual spot at the DAZ (Deutsch Amerikanisches Zentrum), but at the Parish Center of Ken's church, St. Catherine's, because of the big book sale fund raiser going on the same day.  Smart because writers are generally big readers, and evil for the same reason.  I'm a sucker for bargain books, which is why I've got more than I think I'll ever be able to read already.  Now I've got more, though for the sake of raising money for children's library, so where's the bad.

Yesterday's meeting was highly productive, aside from the shopping, as we got the chance to sit and talk about the two readings, who's reading and what.  Having narrowed it down to a few, I read two short pieces and got some great feedback.  One, I'll be reading; the other, not this time.  A third, I put on our Yahoo Group website for further comments, so we'll see what ends up coming out when it's my turn to stand at the mic.

I'm so incredibly thankful Chris researched local writers' groups before we moved, because otherwise I doubt I'd have found this group of artists.  At my first meeting with the group, Karenne, the mother of the group having started it a few years back, asked how in the world I'd found them.  It seems they'd stopped actively seeking out new members and had buried their link on the DAZ website to slow down inquiries into joining.  Apparently my email to her had made the proper impression, and so I was in.  I was instantly smitten with her and this group, the different voices and styles that filled the chairs around the large, rectangular conference table.  In this room I found a new support system, a clan of distinctly different artists whose paths run parallel enough to bring them together in their plight to further develop and hone their craft.  We are poets, playwrights,  photographers, and writers of songs, fiction and non-fiction, short stories and long.  We're also parents, scientists, travelers, teachers, and a priest.  Most of all, we are writers and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this group of amazingly talented people.

So back to the I listened to others read what they plan to bring to the public readings, I once again found myself in awe of them all.  Jim's physical accompaniments to his story, Karenne' perfect story-telling voice, Claire's clear depth of feeling, Christine's abundant energy, and although I cannot understand most of what Karin shares (as it is in German), I love listening to her easy rhythm.  And neither Liz nor Tiffany read yesterday, but Liz's humor and timing, and Tiffany's careful delivery also keep me enthralled when they read.  As Ken was up and down, participating both in our meeting and the goings-on of the book, coffee, and bake sale happening around us, we didn't hear an awful lot from him this time, but for good reason.  He'll be reading at least one of the nights and I'm really looking forward to his thoughtful words to bring me further along into his world of writing.  Am I good enough to read with these writers?  Are my words worthy of their time, their criticism and their brain space?  I sure hope so.  I also hope I can bring to them careful thought and criticism, a good sense of humor, and friendship as we all work to move further down or lives' paths.

Thanks, guys.  See you Tuesday.


Saturday, May 8, 2010


After I put up yesterday's piece about music and memories, I realized I'd not once mentioned anything involving my husband or my best friend.  So here's a quick addition to make myself feel better.

Fisher, "I Will Love You"
Our first dance as husband and wife.  Chris.  Partnership.  Unconditional.  It was the only cold and rainy day all month, but it was still the perfect day.  My face hurt from smiling so much.  We laughed, we danced, and we were married.

Wyclef Jean, "Stripper Song"
Driving from Gainesville to Key West for a week of Spring Break partying with my best friend, Kelly.  She drove with her left foot out the window.  It was the only typical Spring Break trip I ever took, and it was fantastic.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Soundtrack of My Life

I love how memories show up, carried by the current of a particular smell or the notes of an old song.  Old Spice will forever remind me of my PaPa, and will probably always make me cry.  The way a song can transport me immediately back to one very specific moment in time is something I treasure, even when the memory is heavy and sad.  Feeling that moment again, reliving it for a moment makes me feel connected to the past, and whereas I believe in the importance of closure and moving on, I also believe very much that the difficult times are just as shaping to who we become as the precious.  Forgiveness and growth are necessary, but who's to say we should strive to forget those things we survive in our lifetime just because they once caused us pain?  I've come to understand the necessity of pain; there can be no balance in life without something to counter the good.  But I've also come to embrace my past for what it is, mine.  It is my own, personal history, complete with crazy highs and numbing lows, and I wouldn't be who I am right now had it been any other way.  Nobody would.  Would I change a detail here or there, maybe.  But I can't, and that's okay because I've learned from every disappointment and every scar I carry, and for that, it seems worth it.  It's not so bad being reminded of things when they no longer have the power to control how I think about certain things and certain people, and how I feel about myself and the world, but it's also nice to allow myself to feel them for a moment.  This awareness and freedom of feeling without fear of being possessed by it comes in handy sometimes when I'm writing, and I'm trying to achieve a particular tone.  I have to feel a little bit of what I write, and music is very helpful. 

The power music has to manipulate my mood amazes me.  Sometimes I put together a song list that keeps me in the right kind of mood for a certain piece.  Sometimes I listen to a certain song over and over to pull myself back into a feeling that will serve what I'm writing well.  Don't get me wrong, it's not all negative; quite the contrary.  There's almost a song for any emotion I need to experience to give a piece a deeper sense of authenticity, a genuine feeling of truth, and I like that.

This is a short list of songs and why they inspire in me something more meaningful than a simple sing-along.  They are my memories.

SWV - "Weak"
Middle school, circa 7th grade.  Lizz, BJ, Crystal, and me.  Lessons on the school bus about things I still wouldn't really understand for a few more years, and morning rituals with my best friend that included reading silly letters backwards over "cheesy" cokes.  Makes me feel warm.

Abba - "Dancing Queen"
Christina Leon, third year of college, and 80's Nights at the clubs.  I was being wooed by Feminism for the first time and she kind of embodied what I was interested in learning more about.  Our dogs were friends, and so were we for a while.  A friendship that ended a little sourly, but I got another great friend out of knowing her.  Katie.

Nine Days - "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)"
First year of college, living in the dorm with two roommates.  My first time downloading music, when Napster was new and we all spent too much time sitting at our desks in front of our computers, chatting online with someone across the hall.  I can actually recall how it felt to understand so little about myself.

Weezer - "Across the Sea"
High school.  The niece of a woman for whom I babysat was visiting and she and I hung out.  Party at which she ended up hooking up with a boy I secretly liked, a boy I would end up with later.  Jealousy.  Her aunt didn't know she smoked when we were out having coffee at Jeff's Desserts downtown.  We listened to a lot of Weezer in my car, singing loudly.  Fun.  Her name was Liz and I should have kept in touch with her.

Aerosmith - "Crazy"
The summer before I began high school, Winter Park visiting my childhood friend, Kasey, and joining in with the Child Evangelist Ministry she was a part of for a couple weeks.  It's funny, my memories of that time have very little to do with God and very much to do with boys.  Riding with Ray to the beach and getting in trouble for cursing, something the leaders blamed on my public schooling.

All 4 One - "So in Love"
Same summer.  Phillip held both our hands, Kasey and mine, in the backseat, and had I been less naive, he would have kissed me my last night there.  He'd walked out to tell me my mom was there for me and walked me back across the field where all of us were running around.  He held my hand as we walked and my heart was pounding the whole way.  The pastor who ran the group had a 6" rule to keep hormones under control, but it was dark and no one would have known.  How was I so dense?  Lost opportunity.

Janet Jackson - "Again"
Jaclyn's house, across the street from where I grew up.  She found her older brother's secret stash of porn, hidden in a secret (and locking) compartment beneath his water bed, and we received our first, unofficial lesson on sex of the raunchiest kind.  Hustler.  I think this was also around the 7th grade.

Alanis Morrissette - "Head Over Feet"
Tenth grade.  Brian, best friend turned boyfriend for a short time.  I'll always miss that friendship a little.

Anastacia - "Sick and Tired"
When we first moved to Italy and living in a hotel, this song was on the radio all the time.  It makes me feel like a foreigner in a strange place all over again.  It also reminds me of Tirrenia, the little beach town where we lived for a couple years.

Ani DiFranco - "Fuel"
Driving between home and college many weekends between 1999 and 2002.  I-75 and the Howard Franklin Bridge.  Home.

Billy Joel - "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)"
My second year of college in my first apartment.  Listening to this song I experienced for the first time a moment of wanting to someday be a mom.  I decided I would sing this lullaby to my child, and wrote the lyrics on the back of one page in a little banana leaf photo album.

The Beach Boys - "Surfin' USA"
Orlando early memories, listening to The Beach Boys in the car.  Visiting Grandma Keith in Birmingham.  First grade and Mrs. Pierce's class, show-and-tell and Mrs. Pierce laughing at the line, "Tell the teacher we're surfin', surfin' USA."  I was such the teacher's pet.

Billy Joel - "Piano Man"
John's Pass, Redington Beach, and Matt.  We sat outside a billiards hall and listened to this over the speakers.  It brings back a slight twinge of nerves and not knowing if the unspoken feelings would ever come out.  But even connecting him with this song doesn't ruin it's group singability in a bar, or anywhere else.

Black Eyed Peas - "My Humps"
Kelly's wedding, or rather, partying downtown Orlando afterwards with all Kelly and Brian's friends.  Dancing with Chad, who had been accidentally outed during the reception, to this song and being happy to be visiting home for the first time since Chris and I moved overseas.

Corinne Bailey Rae - "Put Your Records On"
My first job working with special needs kids in Livorno, Italy, with Lisa.  I burned her this CD for her and we listened to it often when it was just us in the classroom working.  

Tiffany - "Could've Been"
Singing (loudly) in my bedroom as a child while my dad hosted a Boy Scouts meeting in the living room.  Emerging to get my dinner and being completely humiliated when a cute boy told me how pretty my voice was in front of everyone.

Masta P - "Make Em Say Uh"
High school and Chris L., and all the other white boys who tried to act thug.  For some reason, Taco Bell, and driving around with my friend, Rose.

The Wallflowers - "One Headlight"
This song came out when we were first friends, and I remember listening to the words at the time and having a sense that they would somehow be true.  I was right in a way a year later.

Reading over this I realize it may not all make sense to people who are not me, but this is what came out tonight.  I deleted many that simply inspired memories only meaningful to me because I experienced them.  I could go on forever.

Thanks, Chris, for the idea tonight.  It was fun to write.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cookies for Hookers

We were fresh into the new year of 2008, and I was feeling guilty for putting off something I'd meant to do before Christmas.  I'd bought a couple rolls of cookies dough, some plastic cups, and gathered together a mixture of holiday candy we'd accumulated since October, and the plan was to fill the cups with the goodies and hand them out at random.  Call it random acts of kindness, spreading a little holiday cheer, or just being nice - I wanted to give people who might usually be overlooked a reason to smile.  Sugar tends to do that.  And here I'd let Christmas some and go without so much as baking a single cookies.

As it was January already, I decided to call it a New Year's Surprise and do it anyway.  I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote "Happy New Year!" in English on one side, and in Italian on the other of the red Solo cups, filled them with a stack of chocolate chip and holiday themed sugar cookies, topped that with candy, then sealed them in plastic wrap and a little ribbon.  They went into my backseat for the next few days for easy pass-outability.

Two went to gate guards who were always friendly to me, even in the rain.  I handed another to the man who always pumped my gas at the Esso between home and work.  I took one to a friend at work one afternoon to brighten her day.  As I kept them in my car, I sort of ran short of natural opportunities to grab a cup of cheer from the backseat and hand it to someone.  If I was thinking about it, I'd take one in with me to a store and give the cashier a treat, but as it was later that week, I still had three left behind my seat, unsure of where they should go.

Then one night I was on my way home from a girls' night.  Of course...I'd nearly forgotten them, the hardest working ladies around, the girls who lined the SS1 day and night, rain or shine.  Surely they could appreciate a small gesture of sugar-infused kindness, and I would imagine they rarely, if ever, received gifts without strings.

I was almost home, a little less than ten minutes out, and it was time to decide which ladies of the night I'd be visiting.  The SS1 is a stretch of superstrada, a non-toll highway that runs through towns, as opposed to over or around them, and this one runs from around La Spezia just north of Tuscany to Rome.  The SS1 seems to be spotted with working girls nearly all the way.  Different stretches boast different kinds of girls, and the one close to us was mostly worked by male ladies, that is, men in various stages of transformation.  Some had clearly had surgery; others, not.  Seriously, some of these guys, even up close, had nicer legs than me, and much perkier breasts.  It was something to get used to, certainly, but over time the ladies of the SS1 became another part of our Italian experience, and it was entertaining to drive visitors past, and THEN tell them every person they'd just seen was a man.  So who would I dare pull up and talk to tonight?  I opted to stop near a pizzeria in front of which there were always a few girls waiting around for a car to roll to a stop.  I think they were surprised when the window rolled down and it was me.

There were two of them, and only one stepped forward at first.  She said hello, as did I, then I extended a red cup to her and smiled.  "Buon Anno Nuovo," I said cheerily.  Happy New Year.  She looked at me with an expression of cautious amusement, and she smiled back, looking over her shoulder to her colleague and then taking the cup from my hand.  When she asked me what it was, I simply explained that it was just a cup of sweets to wish her a happy new year, and that was all.  She passed this information back to the other, so she also then stepped up to peer into the cup.  They were clearly unsure of me, but polite, nonetheless.  I handed another cup to the second girl, said Happy New Year again, then said goodnight.  When they realized I really was just wishing them well and handing over some cookies, they visibly relaxed, opened their gifts and wished me well, too.  We all smiled, said goodnight, and I drove away, my new friends waving as I did.

With one cup left, I pulled over just past the bridge that crossed the railroad tracks close to another pair of ladies, and in similar fashion, offered them sweets and a smile.  They were even less trusting, but politely took the cup and opened the plastic to check it out.

The next afternoon when I drove past these very same spots, the girls were gone but left behind were a couple of empty, red Solo cups, rolling around on the side of the road.  I hoped they had enjoyed the treats, and didn't just toss them in case I was some crazy out to poison the local sex workers.  Either way, I'd made a few simple connections that further strengthened my belief that we're all just people who make decisions.  Sometimes those decisions are hard to understand, but most of the time, most people are just trying to do their best to get by and survive.  I was happy that I'd managed to at least make them smile, maybe surprise them a little, and hopefully give them a little sugar rush to start the new year.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Remember those?
I wrote this during my second year in college.  I still have the album, and though some things have changed since the time I wrote this, I decided not to edit for now-accuracy.  It's part of my personal history book, the naiveté and all. 

I should update it. 

I have this little notebook that I’ve turned into a photo album.  It’s more like a list in pictures.  The jacket is made of banana leaves and the pages are made of pressed vegetation and they’re the color of ochre.  A man who lives in Indonesia puts these little books together and sells them to small stores like the one I bought this from.  I like to think about the effort the maker of these little books puts into them; I like to think he puts something personal into them to make them his before he adopts them out like babies.  You can tell it’s hand-made from all the little imperfections.  That’s why I like it.  That’s why I like a lot of things.  But they’re just pages.  It’s just a book.

The first picture.
I can’t be more than two years old; my brother must be eleven.  I remember the day we went to this zoo and rode around in a small dirt arena atop a big, smelly elephant.  Two blonde kids smiling and holding their breath.  My brother’s always been my personal hero, but big brothers often are to little sisters, or if they’re not, I think they should be.  This is a picture of a little girl and her protective brother with his arms naturally holding her, making sure she doesn’t lose her balance on the shifting mass of elephant.  There’s a safety bar on either side to hold onto, but that’s what big brothers are for.  Holding onto little sisters so they don’t laugh too hard and fall.

Next page.
We’ve been best friends since the sixth grade, Lizz and I.  The Cabin has a name like any person; it’s a life in itself.  Here we are, laughing and giving each other bunny ears for the picture upstairs in the A-framed loft.  It was my twelfth birthday and I was allowed to bring a couple friends to the family’s cabin in the Ocala National Forest.  First year of middle school.  Middle school sucked.  But Lizz and I got through it leaning on each other, and I guess we still do it now, even though we’re miles apart.  I wanted this picture to go in the front of my little catalog of good memories.

A few pages in.
I spaced out all the pictures I have so far so that there’s no order.  Happiness is sporadic and random.  This one is one of my favorites.  My Pawpaw loved to fish.  And that’s the caption I wrote beside this picture.  It’s a little out of focus.  I don’t know who took it out on the little fishing boat he had.  He smiled like I do; no teeth, closed and shy.  We were close.  I miss him.

With one page between.
Close after Pawpaw are Chris and I.  He was one of my closest friends in high school.  This is us in Zaragoza, a little city in the central part of Spain.  My hair was short and we just look like two friends having fun in another country.  My ankles are tiny.  I only like parts of myself in pictures because usually by the time I look again, I’ve changed and it gives me another reason to criticize myself.  Chris is probably one of the most patient friends I’ve ever had.  He didn’t mind my irrational obsessions with insignificant things like ankles.  He just loved me.  That’s why he’s in my book.

Next one.
These are my old dogs who went to live with my sister after she got married and this is my first white Christmas, huddled down hugging my dogs in the snow.  I was seventeen and about to start making some bad decisions soon.  But I look so happy and innocent here.  Naïve.  I miss it in a way. 

Middle of the stack.
I might be a year old here, with drool on my lip as I bite it, sitting between my big brother and sister.  I like to remember being young enough not to worry about all the things there are to worry about now.  Like my nephew Joshua’s third birthday that I’ll miss this year because I’m away at school; like my niece Megan’s first day of kindergarten.  At first glance, I’d think I’m in this picture with Megan, she looks so much like her mother, my sister.  I miss being the baby.  Those were simpler times.  They always are.  Before we grow up.

Logically following.
Here they are, the Iron Will and the Little Man, as I’ve titled them.  Megan and Joshua, brother and sister, peace-maker and boss – reverse respectively.  She’s been posing for the camera since I think she could open her eyes enough to know someone was giving her attention.  Pursed lips and messy hair, she’s a little doll.  And him, he’s my boy.  I can’t describe the cuteness to the degree this picture captures.  So I won’t try.

A couple more later.
And here is my first baby, Heidi.  When the dogs went to live with my sister my freshman year of high school I couldn’t live without a dog.  A dog, no kids for me this early.  She was my baby.  She still is my baby six years later.  When I first got her she could curl up in my cupped hands.  She’s a little bigger and a lot brattier now.  I took her with me to school.  She’s asleep on my pillows right now.

Nearing the back.
Here he is, the Little Man, a page to himself.  He is my favorite boy.  He has to be only six months old here, spitting like babies do with his little baby lips pursed and his eyes closed, his baby fingers curled up in concentration.  Little Joshua Timothy.  So cute. 

The last page.
There are two overlapping here, describing the same thing, only different parts.  The Howard Franklin Bridge crosses Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, home since I was four.  Sixty-second avenue north stretches all along Mangrove Golf Course and past the water treatment plant.  It smells like not so lovely things late at night and sometimes not even late at night driving by.  Sixty-second takes you to a street and that street shortly takes you to a neighborhood, a closed subdivision with a lake in the center called Harbor Isle.  These two roads, one picture black and white and one picture color, overlapping one another describe going home, something no matter where I am in life, I can always do.  I can always go home.

These are all I have so far in this informal collection of smiles.  These are the things that fill my heart and these are the things that remind me that a smile is your heart sighing.  Because there’s just so much beauty in every one of our messed up, pathetic, dysfunctional lives.  But they’re just memories, right?  They’re only polaroids.