Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boogeyman

Shadowy fingers reaching across the wall; the thing that goes bump in the night; the monster under the bed waiting for you to drop your feet, every child has known her version of the Boogeyman.  I used to check my closet religiously each night before bed.  Even in high school it was a ritual that had become so normal I still did it, and to this day I can't fall asleep if the closet door is ajar.  (My husband loves that one.)  As a child, I was convinced there was something crouched beneath my bed waiting to grab my ankles, so if I had to leave once tucked in for a drink or a visit to the bathroom, not only did I run as fast as I could out of my room, I jumped as far as I could off my bed first.  This is normal, right?

In the same way I believe there is an innate need to give an identity to the beholder of all that is good, I think there is equal need, especially during childhood, to do the same for that which terrifies us.  The Boogeyman is the embodiment of irrational fear, the source of every child's nightmares.  And for many years (and I can guess many people), the Boogeyman has been the dentist.

Few people enjoy going to the dentist; this is something I can say with some certainty.  Whether it's the high pitched sound of the drills or the anticipation of pain, dentists and fear seem to go hand in hand.  And although in most cases the pain we endure is our own fault for allowing the condition of our teeth to deteriorate to begin with, it's in our nature to associate that pain with the hand that holds the drill.

I visited a new dentist this morning, something I've been putting off for months.  A year, really.  Since we moved to Germany in January 2009, to be precise.  And why?  Because I'm scared, that's why.  Because I know what I'm guilty of, ignoring certain things in the hopes they'd go away.  (Does that EVER work?)  And so it was during our trip to Provence this year when I experienced pain so intense, I was, for all intents and purposes, temporarily debilitated until it passed.  And it did pass, which made it easy to forget the promise I'd made in the thick of the pain to see a dentist as soon as we got back home.

Two months later, and that minus a week after I got the name and number of a friend's dentist, I finally made the call, yesterday.  I know it's silly that I hardly slept last night, but I didn't.  I think it was part embarrassment and part fear, both of the pain and that I might have the most terrible set of teeth this dentist has ever seen.  (It should be said I've got decently nice teeth, fairly straight with nothing odd to speak of.)  When I arrived to Dr. Winkelmann's practice first thing this morning it was like walking up the spiral staircase of someone's home, but more professional.  The waiting room was decorated with travel photography (which I would later learn were my dentist's own), and was complete with a relaxing water fountain, magazines in both German and English, and a water and coffee station.  The staff was friendly and warm, not so typical in these parts, and although I often prefer to work with people not so familiar with Americans, like the grocer in my town, I loved, loved, loved how seemingly Americanized Dr. Winkelmann's bedside manner was.  When we met he shook my hand and listened to my concerns, answered my questions (something else not so typical here), and explained how it would all work.  He asked where I was from, and it turns out he has a condo not far from my hometown in Florida.  Somehow the fact that he was familiar with where I'm from makes me trust him more, that and his grandfatherly nature, gentle and kind, wise and confident.  I adored him immediately.  He told me that if our seats were reversed, he would be the biggest chicken there is when it comes to pain, and that this has greatly influenced the way he practices.  I believed him.  And even though the news after the X-ray was not in my favor, and it was clear a root canal was necessary, I wasn't as scared as I'd been going in.

So I had a visit with the Boogeyman this morning and he gave ma a root canal, and it hurt.  But it wasn't totally unbearable, and he prepared me for it, apologetically, explaining he could numb me to my toes but he couldn't numb the nerve beneath my tooth.  After it was done he explained what happened both times the pain jumped in, and just having someone willing to explain everything both before and after the procedure made me feel better.  I'm a question asker; I like to know things.  He sent me on my way with a smile and I can say without pause that I am not scared to return Saturday to wrap this thing up.  Even though there was some pain involved, it was quite obvious to me that Dr. Winkelmann worked very hard to be as gentle as possible (even when he was initially taking a look around my mouth), and my affinity for old men only helps matters.  

I guess in the end, the Boogeyman is never as scary as you expect, and the fear is really all in our heads anyway.  In some cases, he might even turn out to be a kind, old man who decorates his office with photographs of his family travels for you to stare at while he fixes your teeth.  I love my new German dentist.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sonisphere 2010 - Prague

It's the first time The Big Four of thrash metal have played together, and for thousands of metal heads, it was an historic event to attend one of this year's Sonisphere Festivals.  Each show went from midday to about six the next morning, before loading up and moving on.  Headliner Metallica was preceded by Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer, along with a half a day full of other metal bands.  As I am married to a metal head, this was a big deal show to be a part of.  The timing of this event worked out well to make this Chris' early birthday gift this year, with VIP tickets and all.  As we tend to be budget travelers, it was a big deal to go for the VIP tickets, but having guaranteed access to the Golden Circle, this festival's name for the pit area closest to the stage, made it worth the extra cost.
We stayed in Prague and drove the 50km or so to the festival venue the morning of.  The Sonisphere Festival was held at an abandoned military airport in the middle of nowhere, and I'm not sure we would've found it without help from the satellites above.  We were sure someone had messed up, either us or the British lady who lives in our GPS, when we were the only car on a narrow and unpaved road stretching into a heavily forested area.  Soon enough, though, we joined up with a long parade of cars and vans, and even a few tour buses, loaded up with metal heads on their way to the fest.  (It turns out we'd entered the area on the opposite side of "town," hence the initial lonely driving.)  Traffic was slow moving, and we passed more than our share of roadside peers, as in rows of urinators lining the road.  When the trees pulled back from the road, the landscape became one of dead, concrete buildings with no glass left in the window openings and lots of graffiti.  I wanted to jump out to photograph a few of the creepier sights, but didn't want to hold us up as the cars began moving more quickly.  We were driving through the middle of a horror movie in Eastern Europe, and visions of Hostel entered my mind.  The cars were eventually funneled into grassy fields separated into parking and camping areas, and a few quick conversations with the neon-yellow-vest-clad gentlemen, pointing out the letters VIP in the upper corners of our tickets later, we'd found OUR parking.  While we gathered our things from the car, scattered clumps of people emerged across the field from the forest that surrounded us.  Maybe it was just that we'd recently watched the movie, 28 Weeks Later, but they looked to me like wandering zombies.  

Leaving the car parked a few yards from the private entrance for VIP ticket holders, which was just a couple hundred yards from the main stage, itself, we entered the main stage area of the venue.  The festival site was separated into three areas; the main stage area, a second stage area of equal size, and a central area between the two where some carnival rides had been set up among the stands selling food, beer, and concert merchandise.  It seemed our tickets got us early admission to the main stage area, and we leisurely strolled around the grounds, checking out the food and T-shirt selections and using clean - CLEAN - port-a-potties, while movable fencing and red-vested security guards held back the masses.  The zombies pressed up against the fence, eyes watching us and desperately wanting in.

Before they opened the barriers to let everyone else in, we decided we'd see what other perks our blue wristbands would afford us.  Heading into the VIP tent set up next to the entrance, we turned in two out of the six tickets we received upon entrance for some cold beers, and I was thrilled to see that they had Coke Light on hand!  (Past music festivals in Italy NEVER offered Diet Coke, just Coke, tea I didn't like, and water, so this was exciting.)  Along with 3 free beers each, we'd be getting free non-alcoholic drinks all day, free (although mostly nonexistent) snacks, a separate line of port-a-potties, picnic tables and space under the tent in the case of bad weather, and a raised platform from which to view the stage.  It was awesome.  I think the best part of all, aside from guaranteed entrance to the Golden Circle, was the space.  Because there were clearly fewer people with the blue wristbands, there'd be shorter lines to use the restroom (and fewer people using them), and a much shorter wait for beer.
(These are NOT the VIP toilets)

A few years ago the extent of my hard rock appreciation skimmed the surface as I could sing along to a few Metallica and Korn songs.  Enter Chris and the start of my love of music festivals.  A seasoned rock and metal fan, Chris was already familiar with the scene of such a gathering, but it took some getting used to for me.  Just like a football game, the air buzzes with a common love and anticipation, a shared feeling of excitement heightened by alcohol.  I remembered very quickly how hypnotic live music is, how intimate a feeling it is to see a musician's face while he cranks out words everyone around you knows, too.  Something moves through you when every inch of a massive outdoor venue is filled with the sounds of guitars, drums, vocals, and the mutual admiration that exists between the best bands and their fans.  So at 5'3", I'm proud to say that this suburban Florida girl can rock with the best of them, though I might stay back when the pit opens up in the middle of the crowd.

Speaking of height, it's not such a nice thing being short at event such as this.  A little stinky when it's hot, and a little painful when it gets rowdy, it's all armpits and elbows, quite literally.  What is nice, though, is that when an elbow does come down on top of your head, instead of a lump and a headache, you're more likely to get a surprised apology and a little pet.  Sure, at times an apology may take the form of someone else's beer being poured in your mouth before you can say, No thanks, as was the case when a guy was shoved back and, in turn, shoved me.  This is the brand of kindness here, and kindness is kindness, backwash and all.  If you can appreciate it, it's pretty nice.
The soft pats on the head and free beer reminded me of past kindnesses in the midst of scary looking rockers.  When I was fifteen and attending my first alternative rock concert (Humm, the Toadies, and Bush), I'd managed to push my way right up to the front while Gavin Rosdale sang "Glycerin" to us - I swear we made eye contact.  When he moved on to a more rambunctious song and the crowd started jumping and shifting in unison, my foot got nailed down while the bodies pushed back into me.  As I fell backward, unable to catch myself, I remember being shocked when the enormous, bald rocker man to my left actually lifted me out of the sea of people and set me back down square on my feet, patting my head and smiling before turning his attention back to the stage.

When I was seventeen and attending a Seven Mary Three show in downtown St. Petersburg, of course I pushed my way to the front again, eager to show I was just as tough as the hardcore fans around me.  It didn't  take long to get knocked down, and as I was easily shoved to the ground, some advice from a friend at school echoed through my head.  "If you get knocked down, always reach out your hand and someone will pull you up."  My hand shot out as high as I could reach it, and low and behold, somebody snatched it, giving me a hardy tug and pulling me away from the stomping feet.  I remember being surprised that the person who'd saved me from a certain stomping was one particularly serious looking guy who had earlier glared at me when I was pushed into him, though I can't see that making him mad at a show like this.  I think it was the fact that he hadn't returned my excited smile, so I figured he was mean.

Devil Driver

Alice in Chains

Crazy eyes from the lead singer of Alice in Chains



Bernie from Scotland

Along with a host of other festival goers, whose sobriety was questionable at best, we met a guy named Bernie.  Bernie approached us, asking if we spoke English.  The cynical side of me immediately suspected we were about to be asked for money, as this friendly guy with a Scottish accent explained how he'd come to Prague alone for this show not realizing how far out of Prague it was actually taking place.  He asked if we'd camped.  No.  He asked if we'd taken the train.  No.  Unwilling, perhaps, to offer the information but at the same time, unwilling to lie, when he asked how we did get there we told him.  We drove, and I was sincerely surprised when he didn't ask for a ride back to the city, and was appreciative of the printed out info we gave him regarding getting to the venue by train.  He seemed genuinely thankful for that little bit of help, having apparently been stressing all day, trying to figure out how he was going to get back.  You see, thinking the festival was just outside of town, Bernie had gotten into a taxi and ended up spending quite a lot for the ride out to the middle of nowhere, which didn't even bring him all the way to the fest site; he'd walked a couple hours down the same narrow, creepy roads through the forest we'd driven earlier, only later in the day when they were vacant.  His cash was low and being on his own, he admitted to being a little scared out there with all the crazy people in this Eastern European country.

After a little while Bernie gave us another handshake of thanks and disappeared into the crowd, anxious to move away from a few shnockered Czechs rocking out in front of us.  I felt a little ashamed of my own paranoia, having so quickly assumed this guy was out to con us.  Having lived out of the States for several years now, I've learned that my deep-rooted fear of strangers and assumption of bad intentions is very American.  Not that I'm not proud of where I come from, but I think Stateside living teaches us to lock our doors while driving through cities and distrust people we don't know.  And with good reason, as everybody seems to know of someone snatched right out of their own car and robbed, and we've all seen the movies where gullible people are conned by the charming murderer.  It was that side of me that kept me from immediately offering further help to this lone Scotsman, but given time to reflect and talk about it together, Chris and I decided that if we saw him again, we'd offer to take him back to Prague with us.  

He found us again during Slayer, the second to last band of the night, and everyone smiled a hello beneath the blaring bass.  Bernie started to explain in my ear how he'd been able to find out that the last train would be leaving a good two hours before the show was to be over, but before he could finish, I told him we were going to offer him a lift anyway.  It was like we'd saved the man's life, and he made sure we knew how grateful he was to not be left out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night on his own.  When we all walked to the port-a-potties between sets together (he said he was going where we went), I told him no puking in the car, and to make sure he left any knives behind with a laugh.  He swore up and down he was a nice guy, and I believed him.  

A couple rounds of beers for all and lots of cheering later, the show was over and it was an amazing one.  Superior parking made for an immediate exit from the grounds, though not a quick one.  It was like trying to drive through a parade of zombies, as the car was surrounded by slowly walking, and sometimes stumbling, metal fans drunk off beer and exhaustion.  We floated down the narrow lane, once again, through the dark and creepy forest that surrounded the abandoned airport, and we saw exactly what we would have left our pal Bernie to had we gone on without him.  

When we got back to Prague, Bernie wasn't certain and so couldn't really tell us where his hotel was, but was happy to be dropped anywhere in the city he could grab a taxi to get him there.  When he saw the big, yellow Erotic City up ahead, the same visual marker Chris and I had come to associate with our hotel, he laughed and said his hotel was just past it to the right, and we could let him out right there.  We are not the type to give someone a ride from a concert and not drop them where they're going, so we pulled around back of his hotel and parked.  

After all, it was our hotel, too.  

What are the chances?  It's unbelievable that out of all the thousands of people at the festival, Bernie asked us for help (we certainly weren't the only English speakers there), and even more so that we were all staying at the same hotel in Prague.  Believe me, there are many, many choices in this city, like anywhere else.  After a moment of laughing disbelief, we all swapped email addresses and made plans to meet up in Glasgow next month, where Bernie lives and it turns out we'll be visiting in Scotland.  Again, what are the chances?  Bernie has promised us a royal welcome with bagpipes and all, but we'll just be glad to see a familiar face and meet his wife, Sara, who couldn't make the trip on account of being 6 months pregnant with their first.    

So it turns out there are a lot of good people still out there, and we were glad to help one out.  Not only did he not rob or kill us in the middle of the woods, the guy actually hid cash under the blanket in the back seat.  I guess our refusal to accept gas money didn't fly.  

I love music festivals :)  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There You Are

It's been an especially long week, even though in theory, it arguably should've been a quick and easy one.  Either way, glad it's over and we'll soon be rocking out to some lovely metal.  That's music, if that was unclear.

Tonight was book club; we read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  Wonderful read.  Loved it.  Cried, even.  Twice, actually.  Melody prepared some good old macaroni and cheese with salad, and pecan pie for dessert.  Southern comfort on a plate, and appropriately so given the story we would be discussing.  I won't ruin it, just go buy it and read it tomorrow.

As always, it was a kicked back evening of girl time, laughing over good food and wine, sharing our opinions and sidetracking from time to time for extra flavor.  There was a new (to me) face tonight and I'm afraid I may have gotten a little too comfortable (or tipsy), but she laughed along with my outbursts of randomness.  I hope she'll be back; she was nice.

By the end, my friend Liz had moved to the seat closest to me and it was nice to have a few minutes of private talk while the girls discussed things like the Twilight Series and bidets.  Liz is moving to Georgia on Saturday and I haven't let myself think about it beyond feigning anger at her for leaving.  The truth is, had one (or both) of us been a little more proactive in the beginning, I kind of know deep down she would've been one of those deeply embedded friends in my life for the long haul.  Scratch that, she's somehow become that anyway, but I guess we could have enjoyed a closer proximity for longer had we not waited so long.  As we both played on the quieter, shy side, it took us longer to recognize that we tend to function on the same level.  She called it having the same quirks as we walked to our cars tonight.  I call it instant connection, like all of sudden I looked up one day and said, "Oh, there you are."  And even though she'll be gone in a couple days, and no one knows when we might cross paths again, I feel like something really special developed very quickly in the space between Liz and me, and I'm so glad it did.  I'm also glad I waited to let escape a few tears until I was safely tucked in my car.  Crying would have only made for a harder departure, and Ashley was ready to go :)  

I know, I sound like I've got a crush, and I guess I do.  A relationship is a relationship is a relationship, meaning, whatever the type or depth, it comes down to the same fundamental core of connection.  The excitement of discovering a new connection with another person is thrilling, whether that connection includes sexual chemistry or a shared love of random, wandering and open conversations, free of judgment and full of laughter.  I met Liz at the very first book club get-together at Farrah's last June, and I remember hearing her say to Farrah that I didn't seem shy at all (I'd introduced myself immediately in a socially bold moment).  Since then our conversations have gone from sporadic to religious at these get-togethers, and from polite to meaningful.  Liz took me out for Indian on my birthday this year and always hugs me like she means it when we run into one another.  If I had to give it a name, our funny little friendship, I'd call it Comfort.  It's like once we noticed each other it was instant kismet, it just took us a little while to notice.

So thank you, my friend, for noticing me and letting me know the strong pull was mutual.  I'm fortunate to have had you nearby for a while before life threw in some distance for kicks.  Somehow I don't worry that we won't keep in touch, nor do I question whether or not we'll get together again sometime.  In time.  For now, enjoy the next adventure, keep doing your awesome mom thing, and take care of you.  And never worry about the difficulties of goodbye, because between friends that doesn't really exist anyway.

Love you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Get There Early

On Saturday I was downtown again for the Writer's Group meeting.  As I decided to drive this week, I was accidentally there a half hour early.  Now usually if I am in control of the situation I get there early, but throw in a train to catch or a husband to bring along, and early tends not to happen.

At any rate, there I was, poking around outside until Jim M. walked up, key in hand, waving a friendly 'Good Morning' to me.  Since I haven't taken a turn running a meeting yet, I took the opportunity to check out the goings on of the morning, how to get the key and where to leave it when we're done, the setting up and making of the coffee.  Jim P. showed up a few minutes later and told me he was the Coffee Man, so I stood back and tried to help at the same time.

Down in our regular room at the end of the hall at the DAZ, I opened a few windows and took a minute to look out over the square below.  Every Saturday this square is littered with many stands and more people, buying and selling everything from old dolls to supposed antique furniture, buttons to CDs.  There was a band playing somewhere hidden by the trees, and they were boisterous already at 9:45.  As we waited for the rest of the group to arrive I sat at the long table and opened my notebook.  Aside from the swinging music outside and Jim and Jim's photography talk, it was a quiet moment.  It was still.  I started to think about how nice it felt not to have to rush and to have a few minutes to just be in a place.

I've been reading a book called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and in the beginning of her account of a year-long project to heighten her own happiness, she sketches out not only some major life rules, but things she's learned to be true in her own life.  This morning I have learned a wonderful rule that works for me, which also translates to a lovely truth.  Get there early.  (The truth part comes from the getting there early.)  Wherever you're going, show up early.  Not only does arriving to whatever the destination may be eliminate the stress that comes with being late, embarrassing you or perhaps insulting your host, it also creates and opportunity to experience something unexpected from an otherwise planned outing.  Which brings me to another function of early arrival, in that it obliterates the robotic rhythm of pure errand-mode, i.e., get there just in time, do your thing, leave as soon as it's done, move on to the next item on the list.  This kind of going through the motions leaves no room for life to happen between stops.  And although errands are important and necessary to the continuous productivity of our daily lives, who remembers the sale on cucumbers?  It's the man who bumped into you, spilling both your grocery bags and making you late, who reminded you of your Grandad and made you smile.

So on this beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, because I got there early, I got to learn some of the rules of hosting Writer's Group, listen to a couple of photo pros talk shop, and people watch from the DAZ window.  And I had a little realization that is simple in itself, but meaningful having now written it down for myself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Little Goat

She's done it again, but let me start by confirming that Heidi is okay, happily running around like a puppy, snapping at my hands as they grab for her front paws (which she hates) and jumping in circles.  She didn't lose her appetite and there were no mysterious messes to clean up when I left work mid-day from worry to come home.

We're all very happy that, if she absolutely had to root through Chris' backpack, find, and then eat an entire pack of gum, that at least it wasn't of the sugar-free variety.  When Chris came downstairs this morning to leave for work he found the evidence all over the entranceway floor.  Like a good daddy, he hopped online and looked up the possible effects such a thing can have on a dog.  Even though there is more of a chance the gum could cause a blockage because of Heidi's small size, the worst case would have been if the gum was sugar-free, as sugar-free gum has xylitol, something highly toxic to dogs.  (Seriously, Heidi may have a death wish.)  Luckily for everyone, Chris happened to pick up a pack of Juicy Fruit while in the States last week, so the main thing to watch is whether or not the baby has trouble doing her business.

What caused the sick stomach that sent me home from work early, despite Chris' email saying that there didn't seem to be anything to worry about, was the reading I did that talked about how eating gum can cause a dog's blood sugar to soar and the possibility of seizures.  Our Heidi has a history of seizures.   So I got to spend the afternoon watching her for shaking, weird behavior, and pooping.  With the helpful hint from a co-worker Stephanie, I picked up some Omega-3 on the way home to help things move along in the intestinal area, and boy did it work.

So Heidi's fine, aside from some gummy poops and probably a funky feeling tummy.  (Seriously, I obviously had to check it outside, and it's kind of oddly funny when you're holding a piece of gummy poo on the end of a stick.)  Now it's just a matter of stubborn-old-lady-proofing the house, as it seems a once very well-behaved pup who wouldn't even dare chew on anything not hers, has grown into the type who shreds paper when she's mad and eats whatever smells good.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Like I've said before, I love planning.  I love organizing and laying things out.  I experience a little bit of euphoria when everything is in its own little place.  Squared away.  I'm sure it has something to do with the illusion of control.

Another from the 'Like I've said before' file is my tendency to become overwhelmed when there are too many options.  Hence, my messy house.  Hence also, a major trip just a month away, hardly planned.

Do you know how many Bed & Breakfasts there are in the UK?  In Scotland?  It's hard enough to narrow down the list of possible places to visit within the British Isles, but to then have to chip away at the massive block that is UK Accommodations is dizzying.  I've hardly made any decisions and I think my head might just toppled off my shoulders.  This trip began as a Scotland trip only, but with the Icelandic Ash, the chance that the volcano might get cranky again, we decided to drive it.  And since we're driving anyway, why not stop over in the English Countryside to see some things in case we don't make it back to the UK for a while?  Good, fine.  But there are a lot of towns and beautiful and amazing things I'm sure we should see, and I don't have the tolerance for on-line research Chris possesses.  I can only Google and open tab upon tab upon tab of new information and read and compare for so long before I start getting a little frazzled.  So which ones?  Which places?  Am I really complaining about the fact that I can't decide where to visit on my trip to Scotland and the English Countryside?  No, not really...just whining a little over my inability to make decisions and my impatience for not just knowing all I'd like to know without all the work.  I'm freaking out excited, but can't tell yet for the lists of hotel and B&B names and contact info and rates and dates.

So as a blog is often just a journal on-line, that's what I've been focusing on today.  That and checking my gmail account every half hour since I e-mailed in my first assignment for the publishing house in Stuttgart I mentioned briefy before.  (No pressure, Jim.)  I may have taken my time, more out of nerves than anything else, to get started, but if there is no immediate response of either severe repulsion or exuberant enthusiasm, my worrisome mind tells me upon reading my work, the response was something along the lines of unimpressed blahness.  As any person who embraces any artistic medium will likely agree, any strong reaction is better than an apathetic one.  So I'm not going to think about that one anymore tonight.  People are busy, after all.

And I've GOT to walk away from the Scotland research, and when and how we should see Stonehenge.  Should I scrap a whole day so we can make it down for an all-day tour that ends at this magnificent and mysterious site, so we can have semi-private access at sunset for photographs and wonder?  Or do we drive there on our own during regular daytime hours and do what we can to crop the other tourists out of the shots and look at the sunrise and sunset pictures online, pretending we saw it with a red sky behind?  One's certainly cheaper, and fits better into our schedule...but semi-private viewing!  If the British Pound rate could just plummet for a bit, that'd be swell.

Okay.  I am walking away.  I am going to get ready for bed and I am going to read for a while.  By the way, read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  I'm only halfway through, but it's wonderful so far.  Love it.  Read it.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Mo-om,
Happy Birthday to you!!!

(How cute is my mom?)

I wonder what they'll do today, Mom and Dad, to celebrate Mom's birthday.  Maybe a nice dinner out in town, or maybe a day on the boat?  Or maybe Mom'll cut loose and go a little wild, like few people know she can...  Don't let this sweet face fool you.  She can party, and party hard.

A few years ago Mom spent her birthday with Chris and me in Italy.  She came for a month; it was nice to have my mom around for such a stretch to participate in MY daily life.  (Good thing Chris likes his mother-in-law!)  She also got to be there to help out with a friend's baby shower.  Aside from spending a day in Florence here, and a day in Siena there, the three of us also took a little trip up into Slovenia.  We hiked the world's largest underground canyon, well, part if it, and we saw Slovenia's coastal towns and her mountain villages, too, within the span of two days.  Slovenia is small.  Although it was not her birthday while we were there, Mom decided to let down her hair, so to speak, and party it up a bit.  Maybe it was hanging out with two crazy kids, such as ourselves, or being temporarily free of the typical daily obligations of home, we can't be sure.

It started innocently enough, sitting outside the castle in Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital city.  We'd climbed the great hill and walked the grounds, and had taken a seat at an outdoor cafe for refreshments.  Of course Chris and I ordered strawberry milkshakes to cool us down, but Mom wasn't having any of that sissy business.  How'd she even KNOW Slovenia was not just the originating place of what is believed to be the oldest musical instrument in Europe (the bone of a cave bear with man-made holes bore through it), but giant alcoholic beverages, too!  

We were able to keep her from ordering another and continue on our day of sightseeing without (much) incident.  But when dinner rolled around, she was ready for more.  When we tried to suggest perhaps a glass of cool water after such a long day, she shot us a look only a mother can give.  She was having her wine!

Since it was summertime, the sun didn't set until after ten o'clock.  With extended daytime hours, many local attractions remained open for the tourists' business.  We decided to hop on over to Lake Bled and it's accompanying town and castle.  We underestimated the strength of the wine, apparently, because even an hour later, Mom had convinced herself that she was the Queen of Bled, residing in its beautiful castle.  She climbed up into that castle and peered down at the rest of us, her subjects, admiring the amazing view over the lake.  We tried to call her down, but she refused.  When we waved to get her attention, she just waved back, happy to be admired by her people.

In the end we were able to wrestle her away and bring her safely back to our piddly hotel, nothing like a castle.  When she sobered up from her partying ways she was Mom again, and we all enjoyed the rest of the trip.

It was a fun trip and I'll always remember it fondly.  Here's hoping this year Mom doesn't party quite so hard, but enjoys her day anyhow.  Love you, Mom!  Happy Birthday :)

(Some images above have been manipulated for comedic purposes.  And although the above story is mostly untrue, it was fun to write anyway.)

Goodbye To 3 More

Last summer it was Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Ed McMahon.  I remember the day I heard about Ms. Fawcett well, as I was on my way to another Farrah Fawcett's house for our first official book club get together.  That's really her name, although getting married added McCullough onto the end.  It's a fun ice-breaker and we all get a kick out of referring to our friend, Farrah Fawcett.  It still seems weird that the ever-strange Michael Jackson is gone, and there is a generation who I think misses those giant Publisher's Clearing House checks Mr. McMahon was so well-known for delivering to our doors.  My grandmother was actually a finalist once for that famous sweepstakes, got the script in the mail and everything.  But sadly, Ed ended up knocking on someone else's door.

This week within seven days, the world said goodbye to Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper, and Rue McClanahan. I am of the generation who enjoyed "Different Strokes," "What's Happening, "Gimme a Break," and "Silver Spoons," so me and Gary go way back.  While living in Pisa, Chris and I were thrilled to find several instances where it seemed someone was paying Mr. Coleman homage in the form of street art.  It made us happy to see an old, familiar face from both our childhoods on the side of a building in Florence or Milan.  It was like a note left for us to find, a piece of home we could appreciate and pose in front of.

We took this picture on our first New Year's Eve in Florence, the last night of 2004.  This was our first Gary sighting of many.

"Golden Girls" also happened to be one of my favorite shows on TV as a child, though now it seems a bit odd that I enjoyed a show about elderly women so much as a kid.  Rue McClanahan's character, Blanch, will be sorely missed for her brazen displays of sexuality on TV, reminding us that there is sex after menopause.  Even if it was just a TV show, it made a difference on the landscape of television, something that reaches most people, and that's something.  When I was in the hospital late last year, Chris brought me some DVDs from the library to keep me entertained from my adjustable bed.  One of them was the first season of "Golden Girls," a surprising pick, as I hadn't watched the show in years.  I watched the whole season by the time my 3 days was up.

I don't know if there's anything to the whole thing about tragedy coming in 3s.  I guess you tend to find whatever it is you go looking for.  Either way, it's hard when pieces of your past start to die, whether it's old TV stars, musicians, or the movie theater you frequented growing up.  Nothing is forever, I suppose; everything passes.  All we can do is remember them for their being here to have an impact on our days and try to appreciate the little things that do the same these days.

* I first put up this post as it is above, only realizing I hadn't even mentioned these real people's real lives or their grieving families and friends until I was falling asleep.  That wasn't an intentional omission, so I wanted to add on my condolences for the people I'll never know, but who have lost a loved one, nonetheless.  Perhaps there lies comfort in knowing these loved ones are missed by many people for many reasons, that they touched people enough to be remembered. *

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lamps, Benches, and Trees

As I look through my folders of photographs from all the places we've been, there is a short list of things that constantly pop up in my favorite shots.  And I'm not sure why.  I have a thing about trees, as I'm told many people do, and I'm often captivated by the simplest sapling, if the light hits it right.  Trees symbolize growth to me, I suppose, and strength that originates from a very small and fragile place.  While in college, Kelly and I once sat down at the dining table to make inspirational magnets.  One of them said, "Billy Blanks wants YOU!" to remind us to do our Tae Bo.  Another was a simple ink sketch of a tree that I drew, underneath writing in all lowercase letters the word, me.  Before moving to Italy I drew a picture of a very substantial tree with roots coming deep beneath the ground from the body of a person.  While living in San Piero, I started its painting version, which upon completion will feature this phrase:  "All things strong grow from something broken."  It's something I believe.  Maybe I'm a tree, or want to be.  Figuratively.  One of the things I hated most about myself in my adolescent years, and slightly beyond them, was my belief that I was weak.  I've always been deeply in touch with my emotions, and grew up believing this to be a severe fault.  After all, there is no room for reason when emotions are involved, right?  You're not supposed to discipline a child when you're upset, for you might act too harshly.  My dad always told me, in the midst of a disagreement, that I needed to calm down before we could continue, that I wasn't being rational because I was emotional.  That always fueled my anger, but now I get it.  He was right, but you can't tell a pissed off teenager that.  So maybe these two balancing forces cannot work at their best simultaneously, but I think they're equally as valuable.  Now I know that feeling as deeply as I do is a gift, something which allows me to experience things on a level many people do not.  Good and bad, I feel it to my bones and as I grow older, I'd like to think I'm learning how to better handle such things, and how to learn from them.  I am not without reason; I'm actually quite logical most of the time, but what I feel is what inspires me, and what inspires me teaches me more about life and the world around me.  So I'm glad to be an emotional person, a word that once felt like such a curse to be called.  And I now understand that I do have strength, and that emotion and being strong do not sit across the table from one another, but can share a bench.  Maybe I was weak at one time, but allowing myself to break like I did, albeit a bit too much, also allowed for stronger bonds to take the places of the cracks left behind.  Skin scarred over is a thicker skin, but can also be a wiser one.  So with roots reaching deeply into the soil finding home, a strong trunk, and eager branches reaching in every direction, including the sky, maybe I am the trees I draw.

Benches.  Not just benches, benches surrounded by trees.  I take pictures of benches along pathways.  A resting place along a road with an unseen destination, or end.  A piece of man left to rest among nature with its bright, red paint.  An artist's perch while they take in a moment.  An opportunity waiting for someone to stop for a while.  Why does a bench make me stop and take a photograph?  I'm not really sure.  Maybe I'm seeking solitude when they strike me, for a moment alone here is a very different thing from sitting with company.  I know that seems a simplistic statement, but I cannot experience the same peace if someone else were to share this bench with me.  When I see it, I see quiet and I see myself writing as the air moves like whispers through the trees and the birds call to one another.    


And lamps, I'm always taking pictures of lamps.  Street lamps along a canal, lamps hanging from the sides of buildings or over entrance ways, these nab my eye, if not for a picture then at least for a moment of inspection.  Let's analyze this one, shall we?  Lamps, light, shining light on a path that must be dark for the lamp to be necessary, so a guiding light to find he way, the what?  To where?  As a child whenever an airplane flew overhead, a tiny speck that softly roared down at me from so far away, I stopped and watched while a strange but soft shiver came over me.  It felt familiar, that's the best way I can describe it.  And the thought of riding on an airplane got me excited like I was going to Disney World.  I liked to imagine the places I could see with that airplane leading the way, taking me there.  Down unseen paths to a future that is quite honestly turning out more fantastic than I had even imagined.  I think even if I have found my path, I will always be curious and intrigued to seek out more, to see more, to experience more.  To be more.  Maybe it'll be by the light of one of these lamps.    

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Good Hair Day

Although I don't go very often, today is one of most favorite kinds of days.  I've just gotten home from the salon down my street, literally.  Jutta Mueller Friseur has been in this town for over 50 years, family run and currently being operated by the second generation, though the third already has her hands in the mix.  They all have fire red hair; I love it.  As ruling families go, my girl, Elena, does not have royal blood, but I adore her anyway.  The first time we met, me trying to practice my primitive German while she practiced her limited English, we learned that we both come from the city of St. Petersburg.  The fact that I am a Floridian and she, a Russian, makes no difference as we chat about family and travel.

The first time I went to Elena for a cut I was nervous, as I'm sure most women are when trying out a new stylist.  An evil of relocating.  Careful to avoid hairy catastrophe, I opted for just a cut.  This safeguards against walking out with an oddly-colored, butchered head of hair if things go badly.  We talked, we smiled, and then she shampooed my hair.  That was it; me and my hair were hers to shape and mold.  Now I've always enjoyed anyone playing with my hair, really, even just touching my hair, so sitting in the swiveling salon chair is always a treat.  I can spend hours in a salon if it means someone is messing with my hair, carefully separating sections of hair with the tip of the comb, brushing in highlights, cutting it bit by bit and blowing dry.  It's heaven, but the paramount moments for my relaxation happen at the shampoo sink.  That's where Elena proved to me that she would be my girl for all the time we live here.  Today was no different, except there was no reason not to totally trust Elena's expertise.  She did the whole nine; cut, color, and style.

She checks in with me often about pressure and temperature, but she doesn't need to: It's all perfect.  Her hands move in smooth circles around my head, smearing on whatever goop is necessary, and it's like a cranial hug.  Then her fingers reach through the smoothed hair, thick with product, and poised with an ever so gentle claw-like posture, they massage my scalp, pressing and turning, pressing and turning.  I sigh in ecstasy every time, and she just laughs.  I wish I could visit this place every day.

With the radio playing, the soft, chemical smells of the salon, and complimentary coffee in front of me, this is a severely relaxing experience.  It's nice to have a little place so close to home where I feel completely at ease to trust a lady with a pair of scissors and reign over my hair, because as silly as it may sound, that means I get to feel a little pampered while I'm there, and then I get to leave feeling refreshed and a little prettier.  Who can't stand a pick up like that?  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

Even though I love being productive, revel in checking things off the list, when the list gets so big I feel paralyzed to even begin chipping away.  While Chris is gone I've got plenty to keep me busy.  I'd really love for my house to look nice even when we're not having company.  The yard is a jungle in need of some serious work.  I have phone calls to make, to our Realtor, a possible new lawn guy, and the dentist.  Bills need to be dropped off at the translator's office.  I need to make the time to go by and talk to a rep at the University of Phoenix to start gathering information regarding their possible new Masters program here and give that some serious thought.  I have new work for a publishing company in the city, my first assignment, about which I'm super excited, but nervous since it's new.  There are hotels to be researched and booked for two upcoming concerts we're attending, one in Prague and the other outside of Brussels, in addition to planning out a week and a half in the UK, hotels included.  

This is what I'd like to accomplish this week while I've got this extra time with no one to hang out with in the evenings, and I think I can get a lot of it done. Doing so would give me such a great feeling of accomplishment, as these things are growing heavier the longer I put them off.  But when I look at it all, I can't even begin.  I'll blog about it instead.

In college I tended to let assignments and papers and studying for exams gather and pile until they, too, paralyzed me.  I didn't know where to start, so I'd have a little meltdown and do nothing.  Enter Chris.  I'd call him, crying and listing all I had to get done in whatever amount of time, and he was there fifteen minutes later.  Chris has always had a way of taking the tangled up mess of my To-Dos from my frazzled hands and picking them apart, piece by piece, according to importance and deadline, and laying them all out so that they appear far less intimidating.  He did that for me many times while we were in school together, and has had an opportunity here and there since then in our post-college life.  He amazes me, and this is another reason he's perfect for me; he balances me out when I get out of whack, and I'd like to think I do the same for him.  He also does not make lists, which astounds me, but he also procrastinates like nobody's business.  Often times in the end it turns out procrastination has worked to our advantage, I'm not sure how, and this only fuels his tendencies.  This drives me a little nuts, but to all things there good and there is bad.  But I digress.

So I'm sitting here at my laptop wondering what he's up to right about now in Illinois.  And missing him a little, having trouble tackling this week's list without him to downplay it and encourage me not to stress.  It doesn't actually help, actually promotes more procrastination, which is why his absence may be the perfect opportunity to focus on getting a list of things done.  But I miss him, all the same, to listen, however absently while sitting at his own laptop, to my rambling.  It enables me to relieve some of the build up and helps me organize my thoughts and my plans.  That's why it's sometimes okay - sometimes - that he's not totally tuned in to what I'm talking about.  Sometimes I just need to express it, get it out so I can see the words and reorganize them to better grasp what I'm dealing with.  Is it just a woman thing? 

Maybe I just need to make a calendar for the week and fill in a few tasks each day so that I actually get something done each day, and so I don't feel the pressure to get more done in a day than is necessary.  That's where I get overwhelmed.  But just as important as it is to check things off my lists, is my need to decompress and just veg out in front of something entertaining on TV at the end of the night.  I'm not ashamed to say it, I need a little brain rot time.  It helps my mind wind down and start considering sleep, which as I've said before, is a little more difficult without Chris here, even if there is a nice guard dog in the house.  

You know...writing tonight's blog post has actually helped me de-stress a little and I've got 45 minutes before my scheduled brain rot time.  I think I'll do some edging in our jungle!

It's a wonder, this blog's ability :)