Sunday, September 30, 2012

I don't know.

Something Learned Sunday

Murphy and I have started lessons with Libi, a woman whom we like to call our own Dog Whisperer. Our fist lesson was way back in August, when Chris and I learned that by letting our little floppy dog-child have the run of the house, we'd confused and stressed him out. Our second lesson was last Tuesday, when everybody learned how stubborn Murphy can be, and Libi and I ended up discussing religion for a couple hours beyond the training session. But let's rewind a little... 

When we first met Murphy, we heard stories of his gentlemanly behavior from infancy. The only brother in the litter, Murphy always let his sisters eat first, and so often didn't get enough for himself. A mother only has so much milk. Because of this, he was adopted a little early and bottle fed to get him the nutrition he needed. What we saw as sweet, Libi explained showed that Murphy is not only a naturally submissive pup, but a complete omega, meaning, the very bottom of the heap, the farthest from the alpha of the pack. In the wild, a born omega like him would be allowed to starve if not by his mother, then by the rest of the pack. Of course being a housepet, we're going to let the stinker live. In all seriousness, I was a little appalled by Libi's explanation of Murphy's psychological make-up, not wanting to even imagine this little bundle of curly, cuddly hair could ever be left to die, but it makes sense. And by letting him do whatever he wants, we've put him in a position he's quite naturally uncomfortable with, thus inviting him not to treat us like the alphas we're supposed to be. He's on duty because we forgot to tell him we're in charge.

Around other dogs, Murphy seems immediately at ease because the hierarchy is clear. Once everyone knows who's in charge, Murphy very comfortably takes his spot last in line and seems downright happy about it. But between Murphy and his people, there's work to be done to create a more secure home for this little guy. We've made progress and Murphy has started to respond better and my suspicions of high intelligence are being supported left and right when I can actually see the wheels turning while he's trying to decide whether or not he wants the treat badly enough to give me what I want. He's certainly balking at my sudden attempts to dominate, but I can't really blame him. He tests everything to make sure we're sticking to our guns, and when we do, he behaves magnificently just long enough for us to get a little lazy, and then I'm chasing him across three yards trying to trick him into coming close enough for me to grab him. But no matter how mad he makes me when he doesn't listen, I know the work is mine to do. Nothing beats a curly little character squeezing between my leg and the arm of the couch to fall asleep, and even if he never learns to listen to me, I'm not sure I could love another (living) dog more.

I've just realized that I've completely forgotten where I was going with this. So today's lesson? Don't start a blog post and then ramble on without knowing the point you'd like to wind back around to making. Happy Sunday. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Closets & Pools

Secret Saturday

What to share, what to share... since I'm not sure how entertaining sharing these personal things is, I'll make it a double feature.

I still check the closet for monsters before I go to bed, and every once in a while, I'm still a teensy bit afraid a shark will come through the pool drain to eat me.

Let's address these one at a time. I'm not even sure it's ever been monsters I'm checking for, but ever since I was a kid I've done a quick check in the closet to make sure there's no one crouching behind the hanging clothes, waiting for the lights to go out to stealthily emerge and, well, I'm not really sure. When I was little it was the threat of kidnappers that called for one last good closet sweep most nights, unless I'd just been exposed to some new horrific phenomena, like Gremlins. Not Gizmo, but the scary mean ones with no fur and lots of teeth. 

This habit continued all through my school years, including college, but no one really knew because I was usually the only person going to sleep in my room. If a friend spent the night, I pretended to be looking for something in my closet before I hit the light and avoided being questioned. I knew it was a weird compulsion, but I couldn't sleep if I skipped the ritual. Now that I'm married, I've lost all hope of concealing any of my odd idiosyncrasies from the guy who signed up to be with me for life. He knows about it all, but I just like to think it's part of my charm. 

In Europe, at least where we've lived, there are no built-in closets. Any room with a door either has furniture, a toilet, or the heating system inside. I've seen a couple of pantries, but even that's very uncommon around here. People buy wardrobes in which to hang their clothes, and they vary like anything else. You can have a floor to ceiling set-up from IKEA that covers an entire wall, or you can go for the smaller cabinet-looking deal. Either way, here, closets are furniture, not spaces hidden in the walls. Still, if one of the doors of either of our wardrobes is even slightly ajar, we both know I'm getting out of bed to close it before I can sleep. But I have gotten better with age. When visiting friends and family back home, I still do a quick peek in the closet before turning off the light, but recently when I stayed with my best friend and slept in the same room with her, I did not check hers! If that's not a small victory, I don't know what is.

Now onto the pool. I don't get the opportunity to swim a whole lot because winter is eight months long here and we're not big spa people. I do, however, still have family in Florida so I do get to take a dip every couple years or so. That said, I don't really believe anything could travel from the ocean to the pool and pop out of the pool drain to attack me, at least not without the help of magic, which probably doesn't exist. And I don't honestly think that if anything did somehow manage to find its way out of said pool drain, it would be anything big enough to do any harm. Like a great white shark. Yet sometimes when I'm swimming around, there's a moment where I cannot stop myself from checking over my shoulder (or under my feet) to double check. Is it because it's darker down in the deep end? Did Jaws really scar me that badly? I can't be sure, but this has been a worry since childhood and it's not like it's keeping me from living my life. Isn't that part of the criteria doctors use to judge whether or not a behavior is abnormal or disruptive? 

What's so weird about these things is that I do not truly believe there is a person (or monster) hiding in my closet, nor do I believe there to be carnivorous sea life swimming in the shadows of the deep end, but I still have to check. It doesn't mean I won't go swimming, just that I'd prefer not be in the pool alone. And I haven't checked my own closets in years since we have the wardrobes now, and who's going to fit in those, anyway?

And to think I almost forgot to write today. 

Friday, September 28, 2012 big as the sea.

Whatever I Feel Like Friday

I had this one ready to go for the next Wordless Wednesday, but it wanted to go up today, and who am I to argue? I took this on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand last May. We were driving between Fox Glacier and Arthur's Pass, and this was one of several stops we made to just stare out at the Pacific. Well, that's what I thought we were looking at; we were actually staring out at the Tasman Sea, but whatever. It was the ocean, that's the point, that stretch of forever that ignites in me a supreme feeling of peace and home.

This photograph spoke to me today because I'm feeling the tug of the unknown right now, and what image captures the vast expanse of future possibilities more than the sea? Endlessly stretched out across the horizon, it symbolizes a beautiful but indefinable future. The sea will always remind me of home, as I've said again and again, so the irony isn't lost on me that my own personal symbol of home also stands for an overwhelming lack of...well, knowing. You see I need to know what's going on and what's on the horizon; I need time to mentally prepare myself. I used to romanticize the idea of being spontaneous, but now I know myself better. I am not a spontaneous person - it stresses me out. And not knowing what's going to happen next isn't an easy reality to face.

I used to be terrified of change. As a child, changing plans last minute called for immediate tears and lots of anxiety. When I was four years old, my family moved and I had night terrors for weeks. For those of you unfamiliar with night terrors, they are nighttime episodes of tearful screaming that render a child inconsolable. Now that I'm older and can use the powers of the Almighty Google, I understand that night terrors occur as a child moves from one sleep state to the next, and isn't so much a nightmare as an extreme fear reaction to some sort of sleep disruption during that transition. Whatever, Google, I just know I would go to sleep as usual and then wake up in my dad's arms calmly soothing me awake while my mom looked on anxiously. They said that when I finally stopped thrashing and screaming, I'd just kind of look at them like What are you guys doing here, and why are you waking me up in the middle of night?  Then I'd go back to sleep like nothing had happened while the rest of the house tried to settle their nerves enough to follow suit. Such episodes seem to be more common in children who are stressed, ill, or sleeping in a new environment, which surely fit me, and Dr. Google also says children can't recall details of their night terrors because they occur in deep sleep. I can attest to this, as well. I did have re-occurring dreams during the same time of being kidnapped in a park, but it would seem that those dreams were just another part of this big stress soup I was swimming in over moving. To a house in the same state. Two hours away. Really.

I have no idea where this abject fear of change comes from, but it's always been a companion of mine. As I got older I learned how to better control emotional outbursts when things suddenly shifted, but it was slow going. This overwhelming anxiety no doubt attributed to my being labeled oversensitive, which is always a boost for any girl's self-esteem. But I digress.

I believe my once firm definition of home stemmed from my severe discomfort with change. In my mind, home would always be the house in which I grew up, where my parents still lived, and it would always be there. Fast forward to just a few years ago, and my parents sold the house and retired to the mountains of North Carolina - the nerve of them! Going on with their lives and doing what they want while I'm off galavanting across Europe, I mean, really. But suddenly, my childhood home was gone and I had to decide on a new definition of the word. When I was younger I believed I needed to be rooted to a particular place to feel secure, and this is what home meant to me. It was a source of memories of growing up, and a tangible place to which I could always return if life ever knocked me down for a while. 

The first time moving felt exciting was when I went left for college two and a half hours away. I was ready for (false) independence and the chance to explore who I was in a liberal environment. The next time I moved was when I left Florida, altogether. That time, I felt desperate to escape a place that I felt forced me back into the mold of who I used to be, and wanted to forget about. Both of these times my desire for some form of freedom outweighed my anxiety about change, and it helped that I was never alone. 

Now that I've followed a path that has taken me not only out of Florida, but out of the US and across Europe, my idea of home has really taken on an entirely different meaning, though remains the same in some ways, too. Newly married, I left everything I knew behind and moved to Italy. For someone deeply attached to one place as home, this was an enormous move for me. Suddenly I was somebody's wife living as a foreigner across an ocean from my family. That first year was tough, but not having anywhere to run to when things got rough forced me to deal with them head-on, and I believe this made my marriage stronger. Over time, our crappy little apartment by the sea became our first home together, and that place will always have significance for us for that reason, mold, crazy landlords and all. By the time we left Italy it had become a piece of what I consider home because we really settled in there. We spoke the language, we got to know our neighbors, and we got used to the chaos that runs that country. Even now whenever someone talks about Italy, there is a little piece of my heart that sighs and thinks of it as home. 

In January we will have lived in Germany for 4 years, but again, my definition of home has evolved. I don't think I will feel about Germany like I feel about Italy, though our time here has been just as great. Germany happened during a different time in our lives, and the next place will have its place, too. 

To me, home is still the memories I made in that house on 73rd Circle with the wonderfully-climbable oaks in both the front and back yard, but no longer the house, itself. Home is no longer a physical location, but the people I loved while I was there, no matter where they live now. I will always say I'm going home when I visit the States to see friends and family, and home will refer to the country, the state of Florida, and each of the houses I'll be stopping in because that's where the people I love live. And I'll always say I'm going home when it's time to return to wherever it is I'm living, be it Germany or anywhere else, because that's where my life is happening, and that's where my partner in life is. Home is my husband and home is my family; home is where my childhood happened and home is where my future waits. Who knew this girl who used to believe she needed to root herself to the ground to feel a sense of home would turn into a woman who carries her roots with her in terracotta pot?

And so holding this terracotta pot, I look out at the expanse before me, a deep, blue sea of unknown possibility and I know I can handle it. It may not be easy when the time comes, but the currents of change are what keep us growing, and nothing lasts forever. I used to fear not knowing what came next, but now I look forward to living in other places around the world and embrace the newness it will inevitably bring. I'd still like some time to process and prepare myself, for it'll always come with its share of stress, but now the lack of control I feel with regards to my future is less debilitating and more freeing than I ever thought possible. I guess that's the freedom that comes with keeping your roots and family mobile. No matter how difficult it may be to leave a place I've grown to be a part of, I'll be okay.

And sometimes, I really need to be reminded of that.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thanks, Showtime

Thankful Thursday

On this lovely Thankful Thursday, I'd like to express my gratitude to the Showtime network for bringing Dexter to our living rooms for the past several years.

Really? She's thanking a cable network for some stupid TV show? Well yes, yes I am. And Dexter isn't stupid, so shut up.

Whereas I realize that loving a TV show seems sad, this is one of the few I am really attached to not only because of its compelling premise and well-written script, but also because it makes me feel a little more normal. To write a monster so well that we not only sympathize with him, but cheer him on as he commits serial murder after glorious serial murder, you've got to have talent. As a writer, I can really appreciate the level of skill such a thing requires.

Aside from this, Dexter gives us a reflection of the darker impulses many of us have, but would never act upon. I don't mean to say that we're all a bunch of closet serial killer wannabes who dream of offing every guy who cuts us off in traffic, but come on, how many people haven't fantasized about dismembering a jerk or two who made an already bad day worse?

There was a time I was working on a story idea wherein the main character was not only a serial killer, but a girl. I wanted to work out my anger by writing a surprising and violent story. I looked up articles on all the famous names and took notes about method and psychiatric state. I was in college at the time and taking Abnormal Psychology, so it all kind of went together. I'm fascinated by the human brain and why some people develop certain behaviors, and even more fascinated by that which I totally don't understand. In an alternate universe, I am a brain scientist who studies psychological disorders, I'm sure.

So Mr. Stabby, you say you have to slice up every banana you see or the giant rabbit will murder your family? Interesting.

Of course I'm making light of something that is truly serious and the center of much pain and struggle for many people, but my point is I long to understand the why's and how's of minds that don't function like mine. In this light, I could interview a religious extremist or homophobe with equal fascination. I trust you get my point.

I used to think I was weird for having such an interest in the darker side of the human mind, but if  a show like Dexter is as popular as it is, I must not be alone. That's sort of comforting in a strange and scary way.

The new season starts Sept. 30th. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dear Showtime network, you give us a glimpse into the mind of not just a serial killer, but a serial killer who wants to feel despite his psychopathy, and in doing so, make it okay for us to safely relate to a character who has the freedom to do what we would never admit to agreeing with in mixed company.

And for that, I thank you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Falling Light

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Road Trip Scandinavia (Atlantic to Troll)

Travel Tuesday

We left Ålesund Tuesday morning and headed north toward Kristiansund, but only because we were interested in seeing and driving the Atlantic Road, an 8 kilometer stretch of road that bounces along the Atlantic coast between Molde and Kristiansund. What we read before the trip promised breathtaking architecture and amazing views, so we were a tiny bit disappointed with what we found. 

The Atlantic Road does have nice views, but I expected to be out - like really out - in the ocean instead of driving a broken up coastline. It's beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I suppose we were expecting something a little more dramatic. Perhaps if we'd visited during the stormy season we would have seen something more striking like waves crashing over the road, or maybe we're becoming harder to impress, which really just makes us sound spoiled, I'm aware. Either way, it was a beautiful drive and we had plenty of opportunities to stop along the way to soak in the coastal view. 

Another benefit of this detour was being able to see the Kvernes Stave Church. Built sometime during the first half of the 14th Century, it's one of Norway's youngest stave churches. 
One of the most fascinating parts of this church are the well-maintained burial grounds on site with tomb markers that span 4000 years. What an amazing testament to honoring loved ones and the historical integrity of such a place. These grounds are still in use today by locals. 
I loved the worn look of the wood inside, the coziness of the space. Each pew was equipped with its own door and the votive ship hanging from the ceiling kept our eyes turned toward the altar and pulpit at the front of the church.  

To the left, the view of the nearby town just outside the church.
Once we got to Kristiansund, we were so tired we pretty much got something to eat and hung out in our tiny hotel room before hitting the sack early - not that you could tell with how light it was out. Thank you, over-the-counter sleeping aide!

Wednesday was the day we would actually be entering fjord country and we were excited. Though the day was cloudy, the scenery was getting more gorgeous by the mile.

We drove south from Kristiansund toward Åndalsnes to make sure we were on the right route. Another specific drive we wanted to do was the Trollstigen, aka, the Troll Road. The Trollstigen is famous for its crazy curves and heights, as this series of zig-zagging roads brings you up the steep sides of the mountains that stand between you and places like Geirangerfjord, which was exactly where we were headed.

Before we could reach the official start of the Troll Road we were stopping to shoot the scenery. Patches of blue sky peeked through the low-hanging clouds as the landscape became greener and rockier at once.

There was water everywhere, from tiny streams falling down the rock faces on the side of the road, to gushing rivers alongside.

Here we are at the base of the Troll Road. What you can't see in this shot is the switchback craziness of the path ahead that I was remarking about here. What you can see is the secret tiny hand I usually keep covered beneath my hair. Also, I'm pretty sure the waterfall in the background is the Stigfossen. If not, stay tuned for pictures much closer that are definitely the Stigfossen.

This, to the left, is a zoomed in photo of the Troll Road ahead. Do you see the zig-zaggy craziness I spoke of?
The higher up we drove, the colder it became.


Just below is the view back down once we were about halfway to the top of the Troll Road. You can't really see much of the road in this shot, but what a view. Despite the cold, my window was constantly down so I could lean out the window to record this amazing beauty around us.

Finally at the top, we parked and joined a bunch of other tourists who'd braved the treacherous roads for the promise of a spectacular and unique view. As we walked out the wooden boardwalk to see from where we'd just come down below, I hoped we'd be able to get right up to the edge.

To the right is a picture of what is certainly the Stigfossen finding its way over the edge and into the valley far below.

Almost to the edge, enjoying a cairn someone left at the edge.

And then there it was. Standing on a platform that hung out over the open space of the valley, we stared down with the rushing waters of the Stigfossen into the amazing expanse below. The picture doesn't do it justice - it was staggering. You can see the cars and trucks still on their way up. Looking at this view in person felt like flying. The cold air made breathing feel easier, despite the altitude, and I could have stayed for hours.

This felt like the true beginning of our fjord road trip through Norway. Even though we'd yet to reach an actual fjord, this was the astonishing and dramatic beauty we'd been hoping for. 

Both of us took a turn to be in a shot with part of this view behind, but these are lifeless compared to being there. I suppose this is always the case when you get to witness something amazing. The photo is the reminder of an experience you can't really share.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mazel Tov, Bronx Zoo!

Mazel Tov Monday

As this story has been bouncing around since Friday, you might have already heard about it. If not, let me tell you a story.

On Friday afternoon, 25 year-old David Villalobos decided to jump from a moving monorail as it coasted over the top of the tiger enclosure at the Bronx Zoo, clearing a 16ft fence in the process. Alone for 10 minutes with a 400 pound male Siberian tiger named Bashuta would have been plenty of time for the animal to kill him ten times over, but instead he just got chewed on a bit and dragged around by his foot. Lucky, albeit stupid and now sporting one less foot, guy.

Zoo personnel were quick to respond, directing Villalobos to roll beneath an electrified wire once the fire extinguishers did their job to back the great cat off, and the jumper was swiftly treated and sent to the hospital. 

I've read a handful of different articles covering this story, and the general conclusion is that this guy wasn't trying to kill himself, as some first speculated, he just wanted to "be one with the tiger." (article from Chicago Sun Times, which I found to have the most information supposedly straight from the jumper's mouth.) Okay, crazy man, I get your love of animals and nature, but next time try not to endanger anyone else's life when you feel the need to commune with nature. Apparently Villalobos lists "Mother Earth" as his religion on Facebook, so maybe he felt spiritually compelled to throw himself from a moving vehicle into a tiger's space. No one David Villalobos knows this. My attitude toward any belief system is that if it brings you peace and doesn't hurt anyone, rock on. But if it involves forcing others to rescue you from the jaws of a wild animal, you might want to reconsider the ways in which you make decisions.

The happy ending in this story comes from the Bronx Zoo Director, Jim Breheny's decision to pardon Bashuta from any wrong-doing and carry on. It's refreshing when despite the stupidity of people, animals aren't punished for being animals, and for this, I applaud Mr. Breheny. I also applaud the zoo staff for acting quickly and not harming their cat to save the moron who jumped into the enclosure. I'm sure his family is thankful you saved his life, but I'm thankful Bashuta wasn't harmed because of his ridiculously short-sighted decision. 

(Image borrowed from      

And so the Wild Asia exhibit at the Bronx Zoo will carry on for people who are capable of being responsible for themselves, and David Villalobos got his supposed wish - to pet the tiger.

Mazel Tov, Bronx Zoo on handling a dangerous situation superbly, and for not punishing the poor cat who got ambushed by a lunatic.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Здравствуйте России! (Hello Russia!)

Something Learned Sunday

At times, I obsessively checks my blog stats to see what post is being read the most at any given time, or how people are finding this blog. But most impressive to me are the countries from which I get pageviews. Being an American living in Germany, these two countries go back and forth for the top spot, which makes sense. Getting a few pings from the UK and Australia here and there also makes sense since I've got friends in both places. But the ones that totally throw me off - and in the best possible way - include places like Brazil, Peru, Ukraine, India, and China, places I've yet to visit. I'm curious what brings people from these places to my little blog, and who they are. (I also wonder if I have family members secretly using proxies to make it look like I'm getting hits from around the world to brighten my day.)

But the subject of today's Something Learned is that the most surprising high-frequency visitor to my corner of the web, the country that holds the #3 spot in my all-time audience pole, is Russia. Seriously, I'll give you the stats as they appear right now. Check this out...

Pageviews by Countries
Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers   
United States
United Kingdom

This graphic reflects my all-time history since starting this blog. Granted there's a large difference between my top two and everything else, but I'm fascinated by Russia's number, especially given I know actual human people in the UK, and no one in Russia (that I'm aware of). I'm thankful that there are people I'll never know who find a reason and the time to stop by and read, and I hope I make it worth it for every single one.

So what have I learned? I've learned that regardless of how I feel from day to day about blogging, there are actual people who read, and they're not all related to me :) I've also learned that being mentioned in a blog gives me a little thrill, so maybe it'll do the same for someone else.

Thank you to all the people who swing by to read my words, whether or not we've ever met. And for today especially, thank you people from Russia for stopping by often enough to make me really wonder what's going on over there to bring you here. And if my translations are wrong, blame Google Translate.

Спасибо за чтение. (Thanks for reading.)

PS - Honestly, I'd love to hear from you, my lovely Russian readers. I'm curious what brought you here. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. I've changed my comment settings to allow anyone to leave a note, so no worries if you don't have a Google account.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Her Name Was Skunky

Secret Saturday

It's nearly 10pm and I'm just now writing today's post. I'm not sure what I was thinking with this whole Secret Saturday thing; it's much harder than I expected it to be. Everything that's come to mind has been either too embarrassing or too dark, and whereas I might be comfortable with sharing some of the darker moments in my life sometime soon, today isn't the day for that.

And then I remembered a very old friend of mine.

Every kid has an imaginary friend at some point, and I was no different. But just between you and me, mine was a skunk. 

Her name was Skunky, and she wasn't just an ordinary skunk, she was a cartoon skunk. She never went with me to school, but when I got home there were adventures to be had. To be honest, I don't remember actually playing with her as much as blaming her for things after-the-fact, like forgetting to put toys away or other such minor offenses. I also hated being left out of the conversation, being the baby of the family, so Skunky was often my source of information when I felt I needed to add my voice around the dinner table. 

Actual memory: Mom mentioned an article she'd read in the paper about a child who drowned in a bathtub and how awful it was. It was then that I (made up and) shared a story about how Skunky almost drowned once in her bathtub. She was reading one of those plastic children's books (remember those little books with pages almost like thin air pillows?) in the tub and her face got too close to the page and got stuck! Luckily, her mom heard her making weird noises and ran in just in time to pull her face up. It was a close call.

You get the idea.

Skunky was also responsible for taking me to places like Africa in the middle of the night while my family slept - hence my sleepiness the next day. She'd come to my window with her tiny jet and we'd zoom off to see the animals and such. Even at that age I knew no one believed me, but I appreciated being a part of the conversation enough to overlook their lack of confidence in my lies.

Even though I loved Skunky, I knew she only lived in my imagination, and that kind of bummed me out. I wanted to really see her waltzing into my room with mischief up her sleeve, like Lizzie with Drop Dead Fred. Not that I wanted to get into trouble - I was terrified of that - but I wanted to truly believe that she was there with me and not just make-believe. Now I realize that what I was hoping for then without knowing it was actually a form of mental illness, but what I take from that is that I've always wanted to believe in something. 

Wow...this has the potential to go in a dangerous direction and not one I was prepared for when I sat down to write, so what I'll say is this: I may be hard to convince, ever the skeptic when things fail to logically line up for me, but I will always be open to it. I think this explains my fascination with ghost stories and people who seem to possess atypical abilities - at least there are fuzzy videos and psychics in the ways of visible evidence, though it never really stands up. My mind won't allow me what my heart so wants, and that is to just believe without needing proof.

Thinking of Skunky reminds me that even as a child I was unconvinced of certain magic in the world, but it also reminds me that I'm capable of enjoying things about which I'm not entirely sure. I may require a little more convincing, but I'll always be open to it. And honestly, I think I'll always be hoping for it, too. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Five Minute Friday


The sea, the sea is what I think of when I hear the word, wide. I love the sea. I'm from the sea. Not that I'm a mythical creature of the half-fish variety, just that as a Floridian I consider myself as such. No matter where I am in the world, if I'm near the sea I feel comforted, at home even. Be it the Atlantic Ocean, Tyrrhenian Sea, or the Geiranger Fjord, the proximity to salty water eases this ache I carry around for home. When I can close my eyes and breathe in the damp smell to my toes, my pulse slows. When I can hear the laughing call of a seagull flying overhead, the corners of my mouth pinch up. When I can sit and just feel the humidity settle politely onto my skin...


Now the explanation. This is my first go at participating in what's called Five Minute Friday, a writing prompt-driven exercise that has turned into a veritable community of writers. The Five Minute Friday initiative is the brainchild of Lisa-Jo Baker, and to learn all about it (and maybe join, yourself) check out her website.

Basically, you visit Lisa-Jo's site on a Friday to see what the prompt is for the day. As you may have surmised from what I wrote above, today's was Wide. The you set a timer for 5 minutes, and write without editing, without reading over and revising, to this prompt, whatever comes and post it to your blog. This is the scariest part to me. After posting your piece, you link back to her site and invite others to join in. The most important rule to this is that you read what others have posted before you and comment to support and encourage. 

If you're on Twitter, use #FiveMinuteFriday to find others who are a part of this growing community. I'm kind of Twitter-illiterate presently, but am getting help. 

Somebody I Used to Know

You know when you're supposed to be working, but instead you jump onto Facebook to look up an old friend that a song just reminded you of? I hate it when that happens.

Sometimes I still miss her.


Perhaps focusing on the good and not allowing the sour end to ruin what is worth holding onto will result in some sort of closure, for I surely got none from her. Perhaps this exploration of a relationship I no longer have will allow me to let it go. Separating the person from the experience, something I think many people can relate to regardless of the nature of the relationship. It may have taken years, but if I was finally able to let go of my first heartbreak and realize that who he was to me has nothing to do with who he really is, then maybe I can do the same with her.

This is where it started, in a post a month or so ago called Bubbles.


Out of the heartaches I’ve had in my life, the greatest heartbreak has not come wrapped up in a boy, but in the hands of my best friend from childhood. It wasn’t something I ever saw coming, nor did I have any idea how to handle it when it fell in my lap. Back then I believed there were some relationships that were immune to distance and time. Back then, I believed in soul mates and thought I’d found two of mine. 

It’s like waking up from a really realistic dream. When you first come out of it, your eyes slowly start to take in the real details of the room, while your mind is still stuck in the folds of another place. The more time that passes, the less sense the dream makes and the easier it is to join the waking world. Sometimes a dream can stay with you much longer than the typical minute or two; it clings to the back of your mind tripping emotional responses, pretending to be real. But eventually you have to step completely out of the dream, accept it for what it was, a lovely but temporary time, and leave it behind you. That’s how I had to walk away from the friendship I had with her.

Nobody seems to write about the heartbreak a friend can cause, or at least, there don’t seem to be as many of those stories filling the shelves like romantic heartache does. But there's more than one way to get your heart broken.

I've been reminded a lot lately of someone from my past life. It was that song, that Gotye song, Somebody That I Used to Know. The first time I heard it I immediately thought of her. Of course after listening to the words a hundred more times since it’s clear it isn’t the words that parallel our story but the overall feeling of the song, the feeling of allowing what was once was so centrally important to become simply another passing roadside attraction along the way. My friendship with her was the most important relationship in my life for many years, and one I believed would always be there. Now I know better, sadly, and as it turns out, ours was just another chapter, a moment in my life that had an expiration date. I used to be a different person - didn't we all - and some days it's hard to believe just how much I’ve changed. I've found myself wondering more than once if my depression had something to do with the end of our friendship. Was I so focused on myself that I missed something she was struggling with? When I catch myself singing a song we used to giggle through, changing the words to suit our mood, or referring to the moon as Melvin, I'm snagged by a memory that used to make me smile. Now that smile is more of an inward sigh.

She was beautiful and funny and popular, and somehow we became friends. At twelve years old, it turned out we were the weirdest girls either of us knew. We made up silly nicknames for things like the moon and the gigantic owl that once saved us from a rabid moth at the cabin. During the hour bus ride to school each morning we played round after round of who could make the other laugh hard enough to snort or fart until our stomachs ached. She was the only person who saw exactly the same thing I did in a crowd and mirrored my laughter. It’s still a little painful to remember the details of our friendship, but I wish it weren’t. I wish I could look back on those years and enjoy them rather than hurt from them. I wish I could detach her from our ending so I could appreciate what came before. Maybe I can, if I take away her title of former best friend, my most difficult heartbreak, and think of her merely as somebody I used to know.

Maybe this is how I can choose to remember things. Just like I found the power to decide to live in a way that accentuates the positive, perhaps I can rewrite the past to highlight the positive, and deal with and let go of the negative. That way, I can keep the best of every experience and learn from the bad parts, focus on the positive and put that energy into the world. When the experience is separate from the person, I think we can let the person go because the relationship has already been gone for a long time. When the person loses their importance, they lose whatever negative influence we allow them. 

It’s funny, I bet most people have no idea how powerful the thought of them is to someone else.

This is an experiment of separating the person from the experience, and maybe going through this exercise will bring me some clarity. When the world that was our friendship first began to crumble, someone asked me what made her so wonderful, so worth the hurt I was feeling, and worse than the question was the time it took me to answer it. That’s when I started to realize what a loyalist I am and how significant the length of a relationship is to me, meaning, the longer you’ve been around, the harder it’ll be for me to let you go. We had fifteen years of boy drama, tears, laughter, love and growth between us when the bottom dropped out for me without explanation, and never knowing what happened has been the most difficult part. But this isn’t a search for answers, it’s a mining expedition to keep the good and let go of the bad.

There was this girl I used to know...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Three Scots, Two Americans, Two Kiwis & an Englishman

Thankful Thursday

As I wrote two Travel Tuesdays ago, Chris and I were recently in Scotland again for Fringe. Looking back over that post, I realize it might've been nice if I'd included my opinions of the shows we saw, but no time for revisions at the moment. I can say that we enjoyed everything we saw this year, which is an improvement from last year (though last year was great, too). Anyway, although I talked about all the fun we had going to so many shows, I did not mention the friends we saw while there. That's what this post is for.

Fresh into Edinburgh, we hopped a train to Glasgow to meet up with two sets of friends. After a leisurely stroll around central Glasgow, which included a frenzied run through TKMaxx (TJMaxx in Europe), we walked to Jamie's Italian in George Square, one of British Chef Jamie Oliver's restaurant ventures.

It's Bernie!

We were meeting up with Bernie and Sarah again. It would be our fourth time seeing Bernie (the first being the infamous rescue of 2010), our third time seeing his wife, Sarah, (still dreaming of her wonderful cooking since our first meeting at their home) and our first time meeting their 10 month old son, Jacob.  

Has he got you in his crazy cute baby laser? I mean, look at this child.

Bernie and Sarah looked well and so happy to have this little bundle of adorableness along. Since the last time we'd seen them (for drinks in Edinburgh last year during Fringe), Bernie had gotten a promotion at work, and things had worked out just right for Sarah so she could leave her job to be the stay-at-home mom she so wanted to be. The food was amazing, the company even better, and we learned that Jacob likes an American accent. I was instantly in love with him the moment his face crinkled into a smile at my funny way of talking.

Sarah, Bernie, Jacob, me & Chris

After lunch we walked over into the park that makes up the center of George Square to snap a few pictures by the Olympic Ring sculpture. It took a couple tries to get all five of us in there, but we did it. Aren't they a beautiful family?

The rain started to sprinkle down and Jacob was nearing his capacity for patience for adult socializing, so off they went to head home for a nap. For a baby who hasn't been out much yet, he was amazingly well behaved. Not a whine, not a tear, not even a morsel of food thrown. He even let me hold him and seemed perfectly at ease, which made me happy. Everyone hugged 'till next time, and it was time to meet up with more friends.

Meet Tony & Paul

We met Tony and Paul last year during Fringe at a David Sedaris reading, and what turned out to be the funniest event we attended that year. I was sitting next to a then-nameless man, and got nosey about what the author had written in his book. David Sedaris held a book-signing before the reading and lots of people showed up early for it. This guy and I were two of those early birds. So I read what was scribbled inside the book he was holding, smiled to myself, and the show began.

I can't remember for the life of me what prompted our conversation, but I made some comment to the guy next to me in reference to something David had said, and his response, though I can't recall it now, did two things: It made me laugh, and it convinced me I liked this man already. I think it had to do with his partner's snoring? After the reading concluded and everyone meandered out to the lobby area of the venue, we kind of gravitated back toward one another, this guy and me, and kept talking. Tony was an American (still is) living in Glasgow with his English husband, Paul, who at the time was a councillor for the City of Glasgow. Tony, as it turned out, is not just an American, but one from Gainesville, Florida.

"That's funny, I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's where I met Chris," I said.

To which he responded, "My father was a professor there for a while."

When we talked about where our parents were now, and that mine had retired to a tiny town in western North Carolina called Murphy, Tony's face lit up. Because he's been to that town and his parents live in another small town very close by. At this point, both of us (and our husbands) had another show to get to, so we said hesitant goodbyes and set off - in the same direction. We ended up walking across Edinburgh together, and quite frankly, I was surprised we weren't going to the same show. Along the way Tony and I walked side-by-side stacking up the coincidences and laughing loudly, while Chris and Paul walked behind us talking about, I don't know, boring stuff like politics and finances. I learned that Tony was not just familiar with the small town of Murphy, he'd looked at buying mountain property there, which was crazy enough until I told him my parents had done the same thing back in 1999.

"Do you know Wolf Knob?" I asked. Wolf Knob is the name of one of the mountains outside the town. You can look it up, it's on the map.

"Of course - that's where I almost bot the lot," he replied.

"Then I guess you met my dad because my parents ended up buying that whole property," I went on, though I was trying to keep from falling over, envisioning my parents showing Tony property they were developing.

It turned out Tony had not met my parents, but only because he'd beat them there by a year. But he knew the same realtor who sold the land to my parents and we giggled over the very nice man's very unfortunate name - Raper.

Paul was certain that had we had a little longer, Tony and I would figure out that we were cousins. But sadly, it was time to part and continue our Fringe experiences separately.

Chris, me, Tony & Paul
Fast forward to this last August, and there we were again, hugging Tony and Paul hello. We'd stayed in touch over the last year and brought a bag from Edinburgh to stay the night so we could catch up. After a short but informative drive through Glasgow, wherein we learned about some of the more significant buildings, we were at their lovely home on the edge of the city. There was wine, there was cheese, and lots and lots of talk and laughter. I felt like I'd known these guys forever, not as if we'd only met once before a year prior. Tony cooked a fabulous meal and Paul kept us entertained with his digital piano. They asked me to summarize the novel I'm working on, and after I stumbled through some semblance of one, they gave me some pretty fantastic feedback, which I scribbled down immediately and have since applied to said manuscript. Chris and I both felt totally at ease, between Tony's supreme hosting skills and Paul's very professoresque lessons about the history of whatever we happened to be talking about (which makes sense, as he was a professor). It was an evening of great conversation and to be honest, I was sad when it was time for bed.

In the morning, we were happy to provide Tony with justification for making an all-American breakfast, and I didn't want to leave when it was time to head back to the train station and on to Edinburgh. Chris and I felt truly at home with these guys, and made them promise to travel to Germany sometime and come by to see us.

Dinner with Jo

Once back in Edinburgh, we made sure to meet up with a few friends who live there, too. On Wednesday after some super jazzy renditions of '80s classics, we met up with Johanna for dinner at Seadogs, a fantastic seafood restaurant up the street from the Lost Fingers show. We met Jo while living in Italy, as her sister, Elise, was a friend. Jo was living in Georgia (the country) at the time, working to educate the local women about their health, which I admire greatly. When her two years were up there, she moved to Edinburgh, where she now works at the university. I love talking to Jo because her accent is a strange mix of Scottish and North Dakota, and it's adorable. We missed each other last time we were in town, so it was lovely to catch up over good food.

Amanda & David

When Friday rolled around, it was time to meet up with Amanda and David, a couple of Kiwis we met while in New Zealand in May of 2011. A friend from my high school days, Kristin, married Amanda's baby brother, Matt, and we'd kept in touch with Amanda and David when we found out they lived in Edinburgh. Last year during Fringe we met up for drinks, and here we were again!  
Neither Chris nor I have ever been much for whisky, but upon David and Amanda's invitation, we gave it another try. I believe we had the 10 year Jura, and it wasn't bad! We were instructed to savor the flavor and let it burn all the way down, and we did. I was hoping having a dram or two of the stuff would help my terribly sore throat. (Unfortunately, the congestion just jumped from my chest to my sinuses the next morning.) We walked across town in search of a jazz bar, but found it closed, so would up in another rather gorgeous bar for another drink before calling it a night, though it was orange juice for me and my pain in the neck throat. It was great having the opportunity to catch up all around and see a couple more friendly faces in a foreign place. Given the chance, I think I'd move to Edinburgh.

A New Friend?

On our final day in Scotland (for this year), we made time to swing back by the Gilded Balloon (Fringe venue) in hopes of running one fantastic comedian we'd seen the day before. Diane Spencer's stand-up show, entitled Exquisite Bad Taste was one of the shows we didn't know we had to see until we heard about it about an hour before it was to start, and it was hilarious. Diane is a foul-mouthed Ginger who kept us laughing, but she did have a bit of a headache to deal with the day we saw her. Sitting a couple rows behind us were a few guys who were already drunk and adamant about adding their own comments to Diane's act. Like the lady she is, she thanked them for their enthusiasm but asked that they cut it out so she could continue on with the show. After more obnoxious commentary from the back row, Diane finally called for the front of house guy to come escort the idiots out, but she did so with such grace and a smile, you wouldn't have known she was kicking anybody out. The rest of us got to enjoy the rest of her show without further interruption, and Diane even threw in a little tidbit about how things were currently going for her at this year's Fringe as a sort of prize for sticking it out with those jackasses. We left quite happy, but also feeling a little badly for the poor comedian who had to deal with jerks. 

As part of Diane's bit talked about self-pleasure and we're nice people, Chris and I bought a pack of batteries that evening to bring back to Diane the next day. It was our way of saying "Sorry those jerks muddled things up a bit!" and "Great job handling yourself," but most importantly, "For once you're back home from Fringe and need a little TLC." So before our evening show, we hung around outside the venue where her show would be happening again soon and looked for her. As I said in the post about Fringe, the performers are the ones handing out the flyers and pulling people in for the shows, so we felt sure we'd run into Diane again.

We did.

And she loved the batteries.

And now we're all super best friends.

The reason for recounting all of this for today is to say thank you to the people who added a personal touch to our trip this August. I already love Scotland, it doesn't need the help, but when you get to spend time with people you know (and like) while away, it adds a whole new level to the trip. Whether it's the intimacy friends provide, adding a little bit of familiar to the foreign mix, or knowing that if we got kidnapped by ninjas we'd have someone local to call for ransom help, it's nice having friends in different places.

Dear Sarah, Bernie, Jacob, Tony, Paul, Jo, Amanda, David and Diane, you were willing to meet up with a couple of weirdos like us, eat and drink with us, and made us feel at home while away from home, making a great trip even better.

And for that, we thank you.

PS - Oh, and I just looked it up, and Diane's English, too. So the name of this post should be Three Scots, Two Americans, Two Kiwis, and TWO English people. I don't think it has the same ring to it, though.