Monday, December 12, 2011

No Room

She pulls down the box of books. She knows they have to go; there's simply too much stuff in the gingerbread house. But these books? These were the books she read over and over to her little gingerbread babies. Sitting in the rocking chair that had been her mother's, she held first one boy on her lap, then another, reading these books day after day, smelling their baby smell, reveling in their baby kisses, with their plump bottoms resting on her legs, their anxious hands grasping the thick pages.

The sweetness of the memories makes her ache. This was the book she read when they first woke up: "Hey little guys! Open your eyes! What do you say? It's a brand new day!" (Sandra Boynton) There was SQUIRREL IS HUNGRY, where she tickled tummies after reading, "Squirrel can put it in his tummy. Yum! Yum!" There were the board books that had creased corners, where the first gingerbread boy used to flick the heavy cardboard with his thumb until they bent. And then there was GOODNIGHT, MOON, always a favorite with the kittens and their mittens and that little lit-up dollhouse. It was a gift from her neighbor across the street, a librarian and a kindred spirit.

She feels as if she's packing up her boys' infancy and shipping them off somewhere else. Babies in a box, sent media mail. The smell of their graham-cracker dusted hands, their round bellies, and their chubby cheeks, off they go, wrapped in plastic, and taped securely shut.

She sighs, knowing she's being ridiculous. They're only books.

And they have to go, so she packs them up, sending them off to new owners, to new little hands who will learn to love their rhythms and their rhymes while sitting on a warm lap, rocking in a chair.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Crystal Ball

When she started out, she could see into the future. It always involved breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It involved new school clothes, a Halloween costume, a birthday cake, a Christmas tree, lots of snow, those conversation hearts in February, an Easter basket, then a long summer vacation. The future meant a grade change: first grade to second grade, second to third, third to fourth. It always involved a new teacher, new things to learn, a new classroom.

When she went to high school, things began to get a little murky. There was still breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were still new school clothes--in fact, there were more school clothes, which was ironic considering she wore a school uniform. There was still a birthday cake, and a Christmas tree, and lots of snow. There was still an Easter basket and a long summer vacation, but the future somehow seemed closer. She could see college looming ahead, but finances made her options somewhat limited. So did her mother. And majors? Sigh. She didn't know what she wanted to do with her life.

When she went to college, the future was still something far away, but every day, it was getting closer. She knew it would include a graduation, a marriage, and some children (the number of which was TBD). Someday she'd turn 30, then 40, then 50.

Now that college was over (once, twice, and thrice), and she's been married nearly seventeen years, and her family of gingerbread boys is complete, the future seems like a great expanse, and she can see no farther than the end of her fingertips.

But it doesn't seem to matter. She'll take each day as it comes, good or bad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Seat at the Table

In a different year, at a different table, she sat with different people. The turkey was the same, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce--all seemingly the same, but they were made by different hands, poured into different gravy boats, mashed by different arms, seasoned by a different palate.

Though she cares for the people she sits with now, it's not the same. Different stories are told, different games are played, different rolls are forgotten in a different oven. Different voices speak in different accents, and different feet walk from kitchen to dining room.

She misses the old voices, the familiar table, the cut-glass bowl of cranberry sauce. She misses the chocolate pie, the whipped cream, the relish tray with black olives.

She misses her place in the past, her role in the family, her seat at the table.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Regulars

She sits at a table in the diner. The gingerbread boys across from her, the gingerbread man next to her.  She orders tomato soup, a bowl of it, and in a rare extravagance, sweet potato fries. That counts as a vegetable, doesn't it?

The eldest gingerbread boy orders two children's meals. He's at the age when he can neither decide upon one meal, nor be satisfied by it. So two it is: hamburger and fries, macaroni and cheese and apple sauce. The younger gingerbread boy orders macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup. The gingerbread man orders something involving spice and chicken.

They sit, coloring their place mats, while listening to the banter around them. When their food comes, they eat, marveling over hollow legs and growing bellies, and talking about the wonders they've seen on their trip so far.

The tomato soup is perfect, and is just the thing for this windy New England trip. When she is almost finished, she hears a "Psst." She turns her head, wondering who could be "psst"-ing in a diner. There's a man standing at the entry to her right. Maybe she didn't hear it. No. Ridiculous.

"Psst."

Her ears did not fail her.

"Psssst." A little louder this time.

There must have been some secret signal, because the waitress comes over to her gingerbread clan. "Would you mind moving your coats?" The gingerbread man jumps up, grabs their coats they had slung over a stool at the counter on her left, and puts them in the empty booth on the other side.

The man sits down on the vacated stool.

"Hey, Jerry. How are you tonight?" The waitress asks.

Ah, a regular, she thinks. And they are outsiders, visitors to this coastal city. Tourists, even.

"Fine. You got any tomato soup?"

Good choice, she thinks.

"I'll go check."

The waitress disappears, then comes back with a sad shake. "All out. Just finished it. But we have Tomato Florentine."

She sinks a little in her seat, the evidence set before her: the remains of the last bowl of tomato soup. Not only is she a tourist, she's a tomato-soup stealer, too.

"Nah. I'll have chicken salad on white bread, and make sure he spreads it, not scoops it."

"You want chips with that?"

"Sure, sure."

She rumples up her napkin and sets it by the side of her bowl, carefully sculpting it to hide the evidence. She's not sorry she had the soup. It was good. But she wishes there were more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Running

You've never been a soccer mom. More like a library mom.

But the gingerbread boy had taken up cross-country. He stays after school for practices, takes the bus to meets, and is in possession of a jersey.

So, you, de facto, become one of the sideline moms, cheering loudly. You love it. In fact, you love cross-country more than the gingerbread boy does, whose enthusiasm has waned with each footfall, each mile run.

The home meets are at an apple orchard, where the team races through paths in the forest, around ponds, past the orchard where bees drunkenly buzz circles around the runners.

You, with your childhood in the city, can only imagine the magic of running a race through a forest, through an apple orchard, past bridges and streams, past hundred-year old graveyards, in the New England autumn.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beauty

You're at the drug store searching for an alarm clock that the gingerbread boy saw on the clearance table two days ago. You realized after the fact that you really should have bought it for him. It would have been $10 toward responsibility and independence, things you can't put a price tag on.

But you didn't.

So now you're back, pawing through the heaps of staplers, car oil, extension cords, and other ephemera, hoping to find that clock. You're vaguely aware of another shopper at the next clearance table.

"Well, look at that cute red hair poking out from under that hat!" she says.

You turn to face her. You know she's referring to you, as you fit the bill: you're the only other person in that section of the store, you're wearing a baseball cap, and you've got auburn hair. But you don't know her, and you're not feeling even remotely cute. You've been canning all day, and your hair is a frizzy mess; that's why you're wearing a hat.

"Oh, and the rest of you is cute, too! You're just the cutest thing ever!"

You want to duck your head and back away, but instead you smile and say, "Thank you," and go back to pawing through the clearance items. Where is that alarm clock?

But she carries on. "You know my friends ask me if I'm in a time warp, because I'm 59, and they say I haven't changed a bit." She nods.

You're surprised, just as she expected you to be. She doesn't look 59.

"I'm closing in on forty." You offer up a small tidbit to this chatty soul.

Her eyebrows raise. "Well, you just keep on doing whatever you're doing, because you're beautiful! You're just beautiful!"

You take off down the first aid aisle, hoping for a giant ace bandage to swallow you up, feeling both pleased and mortified at the same time.

As you drive home, you recall a similar experience twenty years ago, when you were nineteen. You were at AAA on Delaware Ave., tracking down a youth hostel card because you were heading to Europe with your sister for a month. It was a sunny day, and you were wearing plaid leggings with a v-neck sweater and your black leather ankle boots that you purchased with your own money even though they were outrageously expensive.

Your mom had been sick that past year--the ER staff didn't think she would live--and over the course of six months or so, you had withered away to 104 pounds. You knew your family was worried about you, but the fact was, you simply didn't have time for feasting. School, work, dance company, and hospital were on your plate each day, leaving little room for milk and honey.

But you weren't thinking about that then; you were thinking Scotland, England, Belgium, Austria, Italy, France. Your mom was better, and you were coming up for a desperately needed gulp of air. You just required a youth hostel card. Your outrageously expensive boots walked you into AAA.

Two fifty-something women sat on chairs by the big plate glass windows. "Doesn't she look great?" one said, as you slid past them.

You smiled to yourself as you completed the necessary paperwork, and left AAA feeling like a rockstar.

While details of childhood, high school, and college have faded and become fuzzy, you remember this moment with clarity. You wonder why. When you studied mythology in eighth grade, you always wanted to be like Athena, goddess of wisdom, war, and handicrafts, never like flaky Aphrodite, whose name sounded like a classification of insect or mineral. Beauty wasn't your thing.

But Doesn't she look great? became engraved on your memory. The words come up every once in a while, on days when you feel like a big fat frumpy failure. Doesn't she look great? And the sunny day, the plaid leggings, the v-neck sweater, and those boots (Oh, those boots!) all come back to you. On those days, you think, once upon a time, someone thought I looked great. 

It shouldn't matter, this sort of skin-deep approval. Your face is simply your face. You were born with it. You see out of those eyes, rarely registering even a reflection off a window. You don't consider yourself beautiful; in fact, sometimes you think you're downright ugly. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you look like. You just are and that is that. Shouldn't you feel more pleased when someone says you ARE great, rather than you LOOK great? Sure you should, but no one says that sort of thing. Instead, they say what they see.

Maybe that's why those words have become inked in your memory; those words have morphed into a generic approval. You're doing okay, girlie. Keep it up. And that's enough. That's all that you really needed to hear.




Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer afternoons

The hairdryer is loud. You think of tasks, the to-do list, the grocery list, the appointments, the laundry, the unpacking, all that must happen this day. You think of the landscaping, and the work of digging out a new pathway and setting bricks, building stone walls all by yourself. You think of paint colors, and how you really should repaint the living room, and then there's the furnace and the water filter system you still need, and all that reading and critiquing you need to do, and you're overwhelmed by it all. The day still only has twenty-four hours, right?

Knock, knock.


"Come in."

"Mommy, how do you spell if?"


"Eye. Eff."

The door closes, and you flip upside down, hot air rushing around your ears. BLT's tonight? Then you can use up the leftover bacon from last night.

Knock, knock.


"How do you spell get?"


"Gee. Eee. Tee."

The door closes again. Should you make grilled pizza again this week? You add fontina to your mental grocery list. And tomatoes. You flip right side up again, your curls going a bit haywire. Cereal, you need cereal. And paper towels. And fruit, since that last watermelon was grossly over-ripe. Sandwich bags.

Knock, knock.


"How do you spell prizes?"

"Pee. Are. Eye. Zee. Eee. Ess."

"Thanks."

The door closes again. Your hair is dry enough--not completely dry, but it'll have to do. You click off the dryer, unplug it, and set it in the cabinet under the sink. Groceries, then you have to get to school to meet with the teacher at one.

"Can you read this, Mommy? Can you tell what it says?"

He holds a large sheet of paper, on which is written in blue marker:

"I If you If you g get a 4 tac"

You say, "If you get a four, tack."

"No, no," he says. "If you get a four, take four prizes. How do you spell prizes again?"

You tell him, and he continues to work while you put in a load of laundry.

By mid-afternoon, the enterprising young businessman is set up with a table at the end of the driveway, a half-gallon of lemonade, an envelope to collect donations for the poor, and a bean-bag toss game with a jar of candy for prizes. Like a hawker at Covent Garden in London, he shouts out, "Lemonade stand! Lemonade! Donations for the poor! Bean bag toss! Thirty cents for three bean bags, twenty cents for two bean bags, ten cents for one!"

If only the trees could pull up their roots and come quench their thirst at his little stand. If only the squirrels would pause in their commute from treetop to treetop to toss a bean bag in his carefully drawn and cut bean bag toss poster. If only the stones could change their nature through some alchemy, and hurl themselves into his envelope of donations for the poor.

But they can't.

So you gather a few quarters to play his bean bag toss game, and he carefully tallies up your points on his fingers, and says, "You get four candies!" You don't want the candies, but you take them anyway, because that's what moms do.  The groceries and laundry can wait.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shoulds

She should be rewriting a chapter. She should be revising. But the sun shines, the breeze blows puffy clouds across the sky, and the summer is short.

She brings the Gingerbread Boys to the pool, and the younger one has gone to play with his brother.

First, they stand under the buckets that dump as they're filled with water.  Yellow, then the green, orange, blue, and red. They move under the blue mushroom, curtains of water cascading down around them. Next, the palm tree where three spouts shoot water which they catch on their bony chests. They move to the silly face, eyebrows, eyes, nose, and red lips shooting water. The older Gingerbread boy turns the crank to increase the water flow. The younger one giggles, following right behind.

They make the circuit again, and she wonders if she should get out the camera to take a picture. Will she remember this day without an image to carry it? Like that day in Jeju-Do, when they returned to the beach and the boys rode wave after blue wave, and the sky was perfect and the sand was pink. She desperately wanted to take pictures, but the camera wasn't in her bag. Will she remember that day? The perfect colors? The motion of the sea? The arc of the spray? The glee on her children's faces? She has the camera with her today; she should take pictures while she can.

But by the time she looks up, the Gingerbread Boys have become bored with the water spray and have returned to the slide, where they are the only ones in line, so they go down again and again, each time with a big grin on their faces. How tall they are getting. How quickly they're growing up. Would a camera even capture this joie de vivre? She's certain it can't.

She should be revising, but on such a perfect day, she leaves the camera in her bag and decides to etch this image in her mind.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Tooth Fairy

When she was of a tooth-losing age, the Tooth Fairy was late collecting one of her teeth. Instead, the Tooth Fairy sent a letter apologizing, saying that she got caught in a typhoon. Or was it a monsoon? One or the other. Anyway, she loved that letter. She showed it to everyone. Imagine! Getting a letter from the Tooth Fairy! Everyone else just got quarters.

Thirty years later, she remembers that letter from the Tooth Fairy. Gingerbread Boy #1 lost a molar, and there they were, in a real live typhoon. Rain and wind and more rain. It was easy to see how the Tooth Fairy could get blown off course. Thankfully, she didn't get blown off course this time; she delivered a 1,000 won bill promptly, placing it by the note the Gingerbread Boy wrote.

Two weeks later, Gingerbread Boy #2 lost a tooth. He placed it in the drawer of a lacquered box, his prized possession here, purchased with some extra funding from mom. He carefully wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy:

"Dear Tooth Fairy,
My tooth is in the box.
Love,
[Gingerbread Boy] [heart, heart]

He let his dear mother know at bedtime that he hoped the Tooth Fairy would bring him some paper as well. The Tooth Fairy procured some paper from the reception desk at the hotel that says "Casaville Shinchon," and placed it and a 1,000 won bill by his note, along with a note of her own, saying, "I received your tooth. With thanks, Tooth Fairy. Post-script: Please find paper as requested."

The Gingerbread Boy was so thrilled, he immediately set about writing long and complicated and indecipherable notes back to the Tooth Fairy, apparently directing her to put an X on a piece of paper and leave that paper over the particular item she would like to have. He spread out an array of silly bands and Korean trinkets, ready for her choosing.

After stories and prayers and lights out, he lay in bed for some time.

"Mommy? Can you do something for me?"

"What would you like me to do?"

"Can you get some more paper?"

"Why do you need more paper?"

"So the Tooth Fairy can choose five things. She needs to put an X on five pieces of paper."

"She can't possibly carry five things. She has all those teeth to carry, and she's much too small."

"But she could take one tonight, and come back every night for five nights."

How can she dampen such enthusiasm? His sweet face looks up at her in the dark, and she explains to him how the Tooth Fairy is busy, collecting teeth all over the world, and asking her to come back five times would be too difficult for her.

He accepts this, lies back down, and lets her kiss him.

Then he wiggles another tooth.

Monday, July 4, 2011

On Any Given Day

You wake up because two walls of your bedroom are floor to ceiling windows. Though there are drapes covering them, they don't block out all the light. So 5:00 am, hello. The bed has no box springs; the mattress is mattress and box spring all rolled up in one. The bed is only covered with a duvet-on-comforter. No sheet, no light blanket, just a big honking comforter. The air conditioning unit is above your head and blows cold air down on you, off and on through the wee hours. Too cold without the comforter, too hot with it.

You get up for some quiet time sans children, and eat breakfast in the little kitchen. You've purchased five separate boxes of cold cereal in the hopes of finding something without sugar. No luck. Even the Special K seems sugar-coated. There is muesli, but at about $9 a bag, you'll make do with the sugary stuff. At least for now. There are several different colors of milk cartons at the grocery store; you've yet to figure out which one is skim. The last time you got pink, and just now, you realize you might have purchased strawberry-flavored milk. Hm. Maybe you'll have bread for breakfast today.

The bread you can buy is mostly either artisanal-type bread for about $4 for a very small loaf, or a spongy white bread. You rejoiced the day you found a wheat-ish type sandwich bread with sunflower seeds in it. There's no toaster in your kitchen, not even an oven, so you eat the bread untoasted, with either strawberry jam or European butter.

Time to shower. The shower is not really separated from the the rest of the bathroom. There's a shower curtain that doesn't reach the floor, but keeps much of the water contained. Koreans simply have a pair of rubber sandals they keep at the entrance to the bathroom for people to wear as they walk in to keep their feet from getting wet.

The shower is lovely, though it's tight quarters in there. You dry yourself off with the serviceable towels. Not much more can be said of them. Since the floor is all wet, you sneak into the closet next door to get dressed. The closet has a big mirror, a light, two bars for hanging clothes, two drawers, and two shelves. But only three hangers.

The gingerbread boys are up now and playing. It's time to get them moving. You pack up a snack: two containers of something crunchy and a few water bottles, the subway map, and bag of stuff: camera, Korean book, tissues, mints. You make sure you have the room key and the transit cards. One of them runs ahead to push the elevator button. There are two elevators, and a person could grow old waiting for one of them to come--or else melt, since the hallway is not air-conditioned. You ride downstairs in a packed elevator car, full of Korean women with blue-polished toenails peeking out of gladiator sandals, and Korean men checking their hair in the mirror.

Downstairs, you walk past the guard desk, and out the door. The gingerbread boys opt to go through the rotating door. To the right of the hotel is the Lotteria, Korea's answer to fast food. A speaker sits above the door and blares pop music. A bus stop is in front of you, and people wait as bus after bus arrives and then departs in a cloud of exhaust.  Next to that is a fruit vendor, with neat pyramids of round plums and tomatoes. Bananas sit at the edge, striped, next to the small yellow melons.

You cross a street, and enter into the zone of street vendors. To the right is someone selling socks--piles upon piles of socks. To the left are racks of men's shirts and pants. Beyond that underwear--mens and then ladies--then tables and round racks of women's clothing, and racks of shoes. It's like K-Mart on the street, but with salespeople hawking their wares with microphone and speaker. No blue-light specials here.

Across from the clothing vendors are the food vendors, with trays of California rolls, and plates of batter-fried octopus, shrimp, sweet potato, crab, and hard-boiled eggs. Some sell boiled corn on the cob. Down the street is the roasted chestnut guy.


Finally, you reach the corner, and with that the subway station: the entrance to a sort of underground purgatory with crowds of people and heat and noise, and the beginning of an adventure.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Speak Your Language

They say that almost everyone speaks some English here. What they mean is that almost no one speaks English here, and she finds herself racking up stupid American points left and right because of lack of communication: on the subway, on the bus, at the aquarium, in the lobby, at the grocery store. When she tries to ask something, she is met by a proliferation of Korean. There's no point in responding, so she doesn't; she only stares blankly, shakes her head, and feels stupid.

Her impulse is to speak Italian, and the impulse is so strong, and so ridiculous, that it makes her laugh. If Koreans don't speak English here, it's not likely they'll speak Italian. It's just that the last time she was in such a communication void, she was in Italy, and eventually, she became fluent in Italian. But here? She knows the word for "hello" and "thank you" and "grandfather" and "palace" and "rice." Today she learned the word for "salt." All she can really say is "Hello, palace grandfather. Thank you salt rice." Not exactly conversational, especially if you want to know how to get from one place to another, or if you want to know what this is on your plate, or if you want to find out where you can sit to eat a snack without offending anyone.

As she sits on the subway with the gingerbread boys, the youngest looks out the window watching for ghosts in the tunnel. The other one holds her hand and looks around. She watches the signs that light up with the names of the stations, and tries to figure out the hangeul--the Korean script--for the various letters. The hangeul is supposed to be a brilliant alphabetic system, easy to learn, but the lines and circles float around in her head, and she feels the greatest sympathy for dyslexics. She could try to learn the letters, but she doesn't know any of the rules of how to put them together to make words, and with only three and a half weeks left here, she wonders if there's any point in trying.

She stops looking at the signs announcing the stations and looks around at the other passengers on the subway. All of the younger generation are glued to their cell phones, texting or talking or playing games. A very few sleep. The older generation watch the gingerbread boys, smiling indulgently at them. There's a woman on the train who looks like the Korean version of someone she knows. In fact, she's seen several Korean versions of people she knows. She wonders if there's a Korean version of her somewhere here. Would she recognize her? Could she walk up to her and know her heart? She wouldn't be able to talk to her, because of course, her Korean self wouldn't speak English, just as she doesn't speak Korean.

But she wishes she could communicate with her...then she might not feel quite so foreign.

Ignorance is not always bliss.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random Things

Korea seems to be a BYOT: Bring Your Own Towel kind of place.

Many people have random English sayings scrawled on their tee-shirts. Things like: Shooting Sparkling Star or Fashion Makes You or Thirteen.

Men wear capris here.

Women wear high heels. The more sparkles and spangles on them, the better.

Koreans love children.

Everyone carries an umbrella, rain or shine.

The subway system is blessedly easy to navigate. All the stops are numbered. Even the exits/entrances are numbered.

The grocery store is in the basement of the department store. Upstairs Clinique and Lancome. Downstairs octopus and watermelon.

Paper towels in public bathrooms come with hearts embossed on them.

Toilet paper has pink teddy bears printed on it.

Stone Guardians


Shouldn't all houses come with their own stone mascot?

Imagine if you put this little fellow on a leash and took him for a walk around the neighborhood. Everyone would be wanting one. Keeping up with the Joneses would have quite a different meaning.

If you looked out your kitchen window to see him on guard duty, would you sleep more soundly? Or less?

No shedding, for sure, but the vet bills might send you into apoplexy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take care

The email ended with, "I see we are expecting a typhoon. It is a little earlier this year than last. Take care."

Instead of taking care, they took a taxi to church. They listened to a vehement Korean reverend sprinkle his sermon with bits of English. It reminds her of a Far Side cartoon where a dog listens to her owner speak: "Blah blah blah blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah." Except here it was "Pojanmacha beondaegi pajeon dabotap What the Lord wills seokguram bulguk-sa shupojirisan cheonghakdong."

Strangely enough, it works for her.

They are a two-religion family, so there is still more church to come. They mapquest the next church, then they proceed to wander the streets. They ask a motorcyclist-delivery guy [side note: McDonald's has motorcyclist delivery guys here; this one wasn't a McD's guy, though] for directions. He gives them very precise directions--in Korean. They try to follow along, but after several blocks of wandering through a bizarre neighborhood of arcades and bars, they end up asking another shopkeeper for directions. He not only gives them precise directions, he takes out his map, then writes everything down--in Korean--and staples it all together.

They head off again, but within two blocks, they are overtaken by the first motorcyclist delivery guy, who directs them once again.

Have I mentioned yet that it was raining? That not only was it raining, it was a typhoon? No? Feel the dripping umbrellas, and hear the squishing feet in sandals.

They walk further, with even less idea of where to go. They stop once again, and this time, they ask two young Koreans for help. The two young Koreans take pity on them, and walk with them until they come upon a corner and are uncertain where to go. A western couple walks by. She decides to follow them.

The Koreans come along too, just to make certain they deliver their poor lost bedraggled American family to their destination.

And there it is. Not just the church, but the temple, too. They're about 35 minutes late, but they are there, and that must count for something, because a general authority was there, and they were invited to stay for lunch. Real bibimbap, and real rice cake.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day One and Day .45

The first surprise was the packet of honey-roasted peanuts she got on the plane. You're not in Kansas, anymore, Toto. Peanuts. Peanuts and pineapple juice. Usually she has pretzels and tonic water with lime.  No fat-free tasteless pretzels that stick in her teeth for Korean Air. Peanuts! She eats the peanuts with relish, wishing for the days when no one was allergic to peanuts, as they are the perfect airplane food. She wouldn't normally have gotten pineapple juice, but she's sitting next to the youngest gingerbread boy who loves pineapple juice, and it's easier to simply say, "Two, please."

The second surprise was the packet of toys the flight attendant gave to her gingerbread boys. One got a drawstring bag with a magnetic doodle pad in it, and the other a stuffed tiger and a blanket. Just because. Koreans love children. 

After that, not much was a surprise. The flight was long. The flight was uncomfortable. The flight made her sick.

Supper was a choice of bibimbap or beef stew. She chose bibimbap. When in Rome, and all that. Might as well start now. Her neighbor gave her advice on the tube of hot pepper paste, because she added only the tiniest of squirts. The neighbor practically laughed. In fact, she did laugh. She also suggested she add the sesame oil. 

So she squirted some more pepper paste, dumped some oil, and mix-mix-mixed. It wasn't bad for airplane food.

Then the flight attendants turned the lights low so they could sleep. Next thing she knew, they were bringing around trays of orange juice. She wondered what they would bring around for breakfast. What did Koreans eat for breakfast, anyway?

The youngest gingerbread boy wanted pancakes. She knew there wouldn't be pancakes. Something was cooking, though. Sausage?

Her feet felt like they were sausages from having sat in one place for so long.

No. Second supper. Apparently, they crossed the international date line. The orange juice was a nod toward breakfast, lunch was skipped entirely, and it was time for supper again, even though it was only 2:30 am. This time, they had a choice of pasta or chicken and mashed potatoes. The small foil packages reminded her of the free lunches given out to kids at her elementary school. 

The first sight she had of Korea was a reflection of metal. The second sight was of sand bars and islands covered in green foliage. Then there was more land: roads, bridges, tiny little cars driving. Soon she, too, would be one of millions in a tiny little car driving toward a destination. But her eyes would be closed. 

It's hard work eating supper at 2:30 am.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Leaving

When you were about ten, you started practicing. Off to camp for a week. Good-bye.

When you were thirteen, you practiced some more. Off to England for a summer. Good-bye.

When you came back, you started a new life at a new school, where you knew only three people: two girls who lived on your street and one girl from your grammar school. Good-bye grammar school people.

When you started college, you did the same thing. Good-bye high school friends.

You went to Italy for a semester. More practicing. Good-bye family. But you came back. Hello, again.

Then you transferred to a new university across the country. Good-bye again.

Then you came back for good. Good-bye college friends.

But then you got engaged and moved across the state to be closer to your love.

After a few months, you married. Good-bye maiden name. Hello, anonymous Johnson.

And you moved. Good-bye in-laws.

Then you moved again. Good-bye icky little town.

And again. Good-bye grad school. Hello hometown.

But then the job was sold, and the husband was laid off. You went to Michigan for more graduate school. But there is always an end to graduate school. You said good-bye to your dear friends and moved on.

Now you are here.

You have always left, always had one eye to the future, with little thought to what you left behind. Each time you leave, you miss your friends, and the familiarity of places and things, but time and circumstance have placed you elsewhere, so you move on. Friendships are forever, no matter where you are, right?

Now, the tables are turned. It is not you who is leaving. It is not you who leaves a hole. Time and circumstance have decreed this, and you accept it, but you wonder, what could possibly fill the gap they will leave behind? Who can take their place?

You can't imagine that anyone ever could.

Friendships are forever, no matter where you are, right?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Quick Run

You don your running shoes, and head out the door. Your ipod shuffle is full of sleeping music, and you can't get it to change playlists, but you can't bear the thought of running to Claire de Lune or Enya, so you go old-school with only the music of birds twittering and your feet slapping the pavement. At the end of the driveway, you turn left, because then you'll head down that major hill at the beginning of the run, instead of up it at the end. Right now, you know if you switch directions, you'll never make it back home, let alone any serious distance. Hah. Who are you kidding? You never do any serious distance. In fact, there was a time when you couldn't run to the end of the street without gasping. Well. Now you can. Still, the loop you run is maybe a mile. Whatever. Down you go tonight.

The sun will set soon, and the mosquitoes will come to dine, but for now, it's just you and the road and your head full of thoughts. You pass the house on the corner that's for sale. Then another one for sale. And one more. You pass a flowering bush with a perfume that nearly persuades you to give up suburban life and live in a cardboard box under its boughs. Around you go, past the path through the forest to the river. If you had paid attention, you would have seen the last of the blooms on the lady's slippers. But you missed it. Was that when you inhaled the bug? Could have been.

Here is the ditch by the road that flows every spring with run-off. It's the sort of place you would have been mesmerized with as a child. A little river for fairies. Behind it lies the house with the beautiful gardens. You would like to have a garden like that someday. You would also like to have a full-time gardener to take care of it. Neither is likely. Your low-maintenance gardens will have to do. Perennials are where it's at, honey.

The road rises to the stop sign. On the left is the army of fir trees blockading the house behind it. To the right is another house for sale. Is there a mass exodus going on? You cross the road passing the party house. It's rented by some young men who have motorcycles and snow-mobiles and the like. They've been digging a pit in the side yard for some time, lining it with stones, and you wonder what it will be? Home for a septic tank? Hot tub? Fire pit? Final resting place of a multitude of beer cans? You don't know. And actually, you don't really care either.

You think about the road that you are on. It connects to another road and another that could take you to visit people you have not seen in years. It could take you to Virginia, where you could see your best friend from high school. Or New Jersey, where you could see your best friend from dancing school. It could take you westward where you could stop to see your family. You could go even further west to see your pen-pal or your friend who is a true kindred spirit. The pavement is all connected, one road to another, like veins and arteries winding their way through a body. The thought makes you feel like the world is a bit smaller, and that your friends are really only a road (or two) away.


At the corner you turn left again, and pass your dear friend's home. She is among the finest women you know, and you feel blessed to know her. In fact, you're surrounded with good people, good friends. 

Only half a dozen homes and you'll be back at your driveway. Arms and legs pump past house after house, until you're back in front of your own house, where the daffodils, grape hyacinths, lilacs, and lily of the valley have given way to the purple irises and heather and that one flowering tree that looks like it came directly out of a Dr. Seuss book. The foxgloves and lilies will come next, but you're not certain you'll be here to appreciate them. Oh well. Someone will appreciate them, you hope, but if not, you'll be able to greet them next year.


At the base of the steps, you lift your foot up to the stones of the retaining wall and fold forward in an exquisite stretch. Your muscles ache and the mosquitoes are out, but you are happy. How could you be otherwise?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Omni-Mom

Wake up. Write. Read. Pray. Dress. Pack lunches. Eat breakfast in the car. Gym. Shake yo' booty. Shower. Pick up Gingerbread Boys. Pick up Gingerbread Man. Immunizations. One, two, three. Ow. Get sticker that says "I was brave!" Drop off Gingerbread Man. Drop off Gingerbread Boys. Home for lunch at 2:00. Breathe.

Still to come: homework time, practice time, supper time, and evening band concert.

IT'S OMNI-MOM, our favorite heroine!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kid Fears

If you were to look down, out of the sky, hovering over a small house in a city far from here, you would see a scabby-kneed girl, a serious girl, a girl too old for her biological years. You might be able to feel the fear that rose up around her like a bubble, a tangible fear, a fear that followed her wherever she went.

On trips to the beach with its soft, sandy white shores, she would sit in the shallows where the sand under her was crested from the action of the waves. There she was safe from scary things in the deep, from seaweed that stretched out toward her ankles, from fish that might nibble on her toes, from monsters and goons.

On picnics, she sat on a blanket, or on the cement if there was cement nearby, for the grass might harbor small things that would crawl or bite. It might harbor glass shards, or rusty nails, or pop cans.

At school, she listened. She wrote. She read. But she wouldn't raise her hand, for fear that someone would laugh, or worse, that someone would notice her, when really she wanted to be invisible.

At home, her fears settled over her like the sky. Darkness, dogs, the netherworld under the bed, lightning and thunder, high places, failure. She tried to imagine them away. Darkness was just the absence of light. Dogs could be vanquished with a sharp command. The only things under the bed were shoes and dust. Lightning and thunder were just manifestations of the weather. When she was nineteen and nearly invincible, she climbed the Eiffel Tower, putting one foot after the other on the open metal grillwork to prove to herself that she could conquer her fears.

But she is still surrounded by a bubble of fear, a fear of things much more personal--of pain and loss, of failure and the future--and she longs for the time when her only fears were of ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

La Dolce Vita e Molto Caro

Twenty years ago, you packed your bags. It was time to go home. Mostly you packed shirts and pants and socks, squeezing them into the corners and crevices of your suitcases. You rolled them up, not caring about the state they would arrive in.  You were certain you would never want to wear any of them again, having worn them over and over and over during your months there. They had been scrubbed within an inch of their lives and hung out to dry by your faithful Italian host mama, bleached in the strong Italian sun and dried to a crisp.

You packed the camera, the film, the journal. The notebooks, the sketches. 

You packed the souvenirs and gifts for your family, gathered during visits to Venice, to Florence, to Rome, to San Gimignano, to Assisi. Books, panforte, a silver Etruscan ring, a compass, Murano glass. You didn't bring back much for yourself--a green suede jacket, a book of photos, a ring, some Florentine paper.

Most of what you brought back couldn't be packed. Your fluency in Italian. Your habit of eating fruit after meals. The peculiar way you peel oranges. An appreciation for deep blue sky and ancient stone. Your love for the ridiculous shapes of cypress trees and umbrella pines. Your memories--of tap-dancing on a bridge over the Arno, of standing in the same room that Michelangelo doodled in, of lounging in the Campo, of navigating Europe by yourself. The sweetness you felt for your host family.

You also brought back your homesickness. You wouldn't need it anymore, of that you were certain. You didn't realize that Siena was also home now, and years later, you would feel the homesickness in reverse.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Promise

It's early, much earlier than she usually arises. Work first, then a promise to keep. She tiptoes out of her office after the words are written, and steps into the first Gingerbread Boy's room. He's sitting in the armchair in the dark, wide awake already.

"It's time, honey."

She tiptoes down the hall to the other Gingerbread Boy's room. He's zonked. She hates to wake him, but she promised she would. She pats his arm, rubs his cheek, whispers into his small ear. "It's starting soon."

His eyelids flutter while his brother watches from beside the bed.

They follow her to the family room, where they wrap up in blankets in the chill spring air and watch the festivities over blueberry muffins and orange juice with pulp.

So many questions they have for her, about queens and castles and cathedrals, about priests and promises, as they sit there snuggled up by her side. She answers them as best as she can, plunging into her memories of her life in London so long ago.

Perhaps years later, the Gingerbread Boys will remember this morning. Not for the muffins or juice, or even the pomp and pageantry, but for a happy morning spent with their mother and a promise she kept.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Greening

Sadness spreads like a sower scattering seeds. The seeds find fertile ground in her and land there, burrowing into her skin, into the deep down places where they sprout, nurtured unwittingly by blood and bone. Shoots spread forth growing both inward and outward, and she wonders if she will ever be able to root them all out. It is like pulling at a dandelion only to have stem detach from root and downy fluff fly off, enabling dozens more dandelions to take root.

There is no cause for the sadness; it just is, like cold in winter, like leaves in fall, like rain in April. It sits there, within her, growing bigger each day, a pregnancy gone horribly wrong, and she feels the shame of it.

But a breeze blows by, bringing different seeds, renegade seeds, hopeful seeds. They sprout in the midst of all the sadness; they choke it out. When she looks out the window today, she realizes that the world around her is greening. She decides that she will too.

She will choose joy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Poem for Poetry Month

I eat my sadness for breakfast,
Spread it on my bread like butter,
I drink it down, a bitter juice
swilling in my soul
Cutting a hole.

It hovers over me, smothering.
No welcomed guardian angel
but a constant comrade
nonetheless
as I dress.

I bind it with letters,
written in round loops of ink
Sink it under an ocean
of crossed t's and a dotted i
I sigh.

But it slips away
Smoke and fog swirls
And I breathe it in morning and night
And it weighs me down 
A corpus frown

I sink my feet into it
I put on my vest
It holds me like mud 
or quicksand or water.
Its enduring daughter.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guest Post at Jessica Leader's Blog

Jessica Leader has generously offered to donate $1 to the Louisville, Kentucky library for each comment she gets on her blog this week. She asked me to guest post there today. You can see the post and comment here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Murky Middle

She realized today that she very well might be in the middle of her life. Not the mid-life crisis middle--just the middle. One-half. The mid-point. The watershed.

The thought makes her pause. She calculates quickly, numbers flying through her mind.

Could she have already passed it? What if she was already on the other side of the hill? If she already passed it, what had she been doing? Was it something important? What if she had passed her mid-point doing something mundane like laundry? Or filing her nails? Filing her bills? Making spinach ravioli? At what point was she halfway through? Last week? Or last month? She knows that there's no answer here, that no one knows the length of her days, but still. The thought that she's already passed the mid-point stays with her.

If the average life expectancy is 78, she's already there. But maybe she comes from hearty stock. Maybe she's got good long genes in her. Heaven knows, she didn't get good long legs from her genes.

She decides to look up average life expectancy for women now, because 78 seems young still. Lo and behold, Google give her something better: a life expectancy calculator! Answer questions about habits, nutrition, family illnesses, etc, and out pops a number, the number you will reach before you need to start thinking about those pearly gates.

It's too tantalizing. The disclaimer says it only takes about 10 minutes. She can't resist. It's like shaking the magic 8 ball and seeing her future: "Outlook good."

So she answers the questions. No cigarettes, no drinking, good diet, yes exercise, blood pressure low, can't remember HDL levels, sunscreen mostly, sleep not so good, but hey, we all have room for improvement, don't we? On and on, she answers questions, and before she knows it, the test is over, and the number she receives is a number she often saw on her report card in high school. Does one's high school average correlate with life expectancy? Hm. Good thing she was on the honor roll.

She does the math again, and a stupid brand of relief comes over her. She hasn't reached the mid-point yet. Theoretically, of course. She still has years--nearly a decade--to plan something profound to mark that day, but whenever that day comes, she hopes she'll be surrounded by her boys: the Gingerbread Man and the gingerbread boys; family and friends near and far, all laughing and eating, singing and dancing, sure in the knowledge that there is more yet to come.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Transitions

Where does one thing become another? Where does the sea turn into land? Where does the sun separate from the sky? How does the long winter slip away into spring? How does one life turn into two, with child in his mother's arms? How does one life melt away into nothingness?

The sweetness of change turns bitter these days, as the sea has forgotten its bounds, and flat land thinks it should be hill, and things better contained fly free through the air: Pandora's box is opened. In the midst of this, a heart a world away breaks for people who are not one thing or another, for people whose souls were firmly planted in time and place, and who now know not where they stand. Out of their former abundance, only an abundance of loss remains.

Can you come into my house? Can I give you bread and shelter? Can I smooth your hair back, and let you weep? Can I shoulder your burden for just a bit, so you can regain your strength before you return to your dose of sorrow?

If only I could.

I am troubled by your troubles.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Map of Us

This is me.

This is you.

This is where I worked when we met, the downtown shop, all expensive and flowery.

This is you, driving up in your car, and here I am, waiting.

For you.

This is where we ate, our first date, and this is the song that made you pause, grinning at its serendipity.

This is the park we drove to that night, the paths we strolled down, the roses in bloom.

This is you, driving away in your car. This is me, wishing you weren't driving away.

This is my plane ticket, to return to college.

This is the telephone I spent hours on, listening to your voice coming from so very far away.

This is me, home once again. This is you, driving up in your car.

This is the place where you hugged me, hugged me so hard that you gave away your mission: one square ring box in your chest pocket.

This is the park we went to on that first date, but the roses are no longer in bloom. This is you, on your knee. This is me, smiling so hard that I cried.

This is us.

And as long as there is you and there is me, all is right with the world.

Happy anniversary, Gingerbread Man.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

And the Winner Is...

Natalee!!

Congratulations, Natalee! A hard-cover copy of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE will be on its way shortly!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Confess

She drives into the city today for a hair appointment, where the girl who dries her hair has a skull and crossbones tattoo with a pink bow just under her ear. Her arms are covered in ink, and her earlobes have stretchers in them. Her lip is pieced, and if she weren't the size of a twelve-year old, she might be scary. Inked-girl does a mean style, though.

She leaves feeling like she looks better than she has in, oh, eight weeks. Since her last appointment. She walks with her head held high, without a hat on, daring the wind that comes whipping off the ocean to mess with her. She crosses the brick street, feeling a yearning that hasn't come in a while: a yearning for her city mouse roots. But there's only a half-hour before she's required Elsewhere. She sighs, tempted by the thought of a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop, but she turns toward the parking garage instead.

On days like this, where the sky is so blue it looks like she could dive in and never come up for air; when the tide is high and ice floes in the estuary look like stepping stones to another life; when a brush with civilization calls out to her until she's nearly breathless with the longing, she wishes, oddly enough, that she had employment of a different kind. Employment that might require that she actually go somewhere on a regular basis, to a place that has a water cooler, people standing around it, and 80s music playing on a tinny radio. Where she would have to put on clothes that match, not just stay in her pjs until a scandalous time of day. Where she could sport her new haircut and it might matter. Where she wouldn't have to face the empty page each day.

It's a dumb thought, she knows, but she can't help wishing for a little less solitude. She pulls out of the parking garage and turns on the radio. Her ears perk to the sound of the Rolling Stones singing on the radio: "You can't always get what you wa-ant. You can't always get what you wa-ant. You can't always get what you wa-ant. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you nee-eed."

She laughs at the irony--a message from Mick--telling her that she would despise a job that required a daily schedule, a commute, W-2 forms, cubicles, even the need to do her hair every day. Blaugh. Even worse than that, she would despise not being able to be with her gingerbread boys. If the truth be told, that is where she is required this afternoon: hanging with gingerbread boy #2 and his fellow first graders during writing time, those small trusting souls who still make their J's backwards.

But on a day like this, with the sky so blue, she wishes she could have it both ways.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Sky is Everywhere Contest!

I first heard Jandy Nelson read an excerpt from The Sky is Everywhere during her graduate reading at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The words absolutely sizzled from her lips, and I couldn't wait to read the whole thing. Unfortunately, I had to wait until the publishing world caught up. When I read the finished book, I started it over and read it again. Then I bought a copy to give to my sister. (Yes, I GAVE it to my sister.) Now, thanks to a pay-it-forward contest, I am soon to have my very own copy and give away yet another copy.

Casey McCormick began a pay-it-forward book contest for The Sky is Everywhere in an effort to spread the love, and to generate new sales for a talented author. Her contest inspired other contests, one of which was sponsored by Melissa Writes Fiction, and I won that contest. Yippee!

So, to make good on my promise, here is my own pay-it-forward contest.

Please read the rules below, because this contest is a bit different. The most important condition is that if you win, you MUST buy a new hardcover of the copy and give it away on your blog.

Just comment on this post (1 entry), tweet about this post (1 entry), put this post on your Facebook wall (1 entry), and you will have a chance (or two or three) to win your very own brand new copy of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. Please be sure to let me know in your comment if you have tweeted or posted on Facebook.

So the rules:

1. You MUST have a blog where you can give the book away.

2. You MUST be willing to hold this exact giveaway on your blog in which you purchase this book for someone else (or give away the one you receive from me, IF you don’t love it) and require that YOUR winner do the same. Preferably within TWO WEEKS of receiving the book from me.

3. If you win, PLEASE enter your giveaway into the linky widget on Casey McCormick's blog and have YOUR winner do the same. Then Casey can track how long the chain lasts and how many purchases result from this give-away.

4. Open to US residents only.

5. The contest will run February 28th to March 7th MIDNIGHT EST. I will announce the winner on March 8th and the chain will continue.

If you don't want to enter the contest, but want to give away a book on your own blog, head over to Casey's blog and add yourself to the linky at the bottom.

Jandy is a brilliant writer (and she also has a pair of black shoes with round heels that I covet); I'm thrilled to be able to support her work this way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweetness

This morning, she arose early, went downstairs to pack lunches, and was surprised by the youngest gingerbread boy padding downstairs in his red jammies, gently holding a creation of paper, glue, and glitter that has been languishing in his room for days. He held it out to her with such pride and such love. "Happy Valentine's day, Mommy! I made this for you!" What sweeter gift is there than a piece of newsprint, heavy with the contents of six vials of multicolored glitter, each piece reflecting facets of unimaginable love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A New Hampshire Love Song

She has decided that she is in love with the place she now calls home. Not the actual dwelling, not the structure, four-walls-and-a-roof-square-footage-and-attached-garage. No, the home is fine, but she means the whole she-bang: home, yard, neighborhood, town, county, state, New England, east coast.

She remembers the day the moving truck arrived, so very humid, and the overgrown bushes lining the front walk that fwapped you in the legs each time you passed by carrying something.

She remembers looking out into the expanse of forest in the back, and feeling slightly...nervous. All those trees.

She remembers hating it here. Ticks, and leaking toilets, and driving half an hour to get anywhere. Why isn't there a place to buy shoelaces here? You mean there's no garbage pick-up?

So very different from what she was used to.

But, now...

There's freedom here. There's beauty. There's space. There's safety. There's peace. There are streams and forests and paths and islands and beaches and sunshine and moss.

Live free or die. That's me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

All Shades of Brilliant White

Snow pants. Boots. Coat. Hat. Mittens.

Snow.

The gingerbread boys are building a snow fort, complete with spy holes, so she decides to walk down to the pond to visit the fish. She doesn't know if there are even any fish in there still, but she wants to walk, so down the path she goes.

Last year, they moved their poor lone fish, Angst, inside for the winter. His fishy antics kept her company while she tippety-tap typed on her laptop. When spring came, they returned him to the pond, along with several other new fishy friends.

Sadly, Angst didn't make it through the summer. At least she thinks he didn't. She hasn't seen him in a long time. Maybe he made a break for freedom through the trench leading from the pond to the stream. She doesn't know. He could be hiding under the lily pad, though his bright orange bulk would be hard to disguise.

This year, disheartened by the fate of Angst, they didn't collect Cardinal, Goldene, Blackie, and the rest. Survival of the fittest, she thinks. Emotional attachment to a 29 cent Wal-mart feeder fish is an entanglement sometimes better left alone.

She arrives at the pond, but there are no fish to be seen--big surprise--so she keeps walking, following the trench to the stream. It's nearly frozen, a thin skin formed over the trickling water. Mounds of snow are heaped up on the banks, and the evidence of both deer and little boys dot the snowy land, their tracks leading out in lines and circles. She's relieved to see that the tracks of the little boys go to the tree that bridges the stream, but no farther.

She turns around and decides to blaze a trail through the deep snow to the ford. How much easier this would be in snow shoes, she thinks.

But not as much fun.

She feels like a little girl again, ten or eleven, snow pants and all, crunching through the top layer of frozen snow to the fluff beneath, sinking down, and slogging through. When she reaches the ford, she's a bit breathless, and there's a mound of snow where the sitting stone should be, so she sits down, and the snow holds her. She leans back, looking out at the snow-covered forest. How beautiful this all is--the trees, the white hills and valleys of snow, the blue hour as the sun sets.

She used to hate winter. But winter in a city is full of cloudy skies, slushy streets, and bitterly cold wind. Winter in farm country and forest is completely different. It's all shades of brilliant white. The sun shines here, the snow sparkles, and inside, there's always a fire in the wood stove. She lies on her back, and looks up at the sky. She's surrounded by peace. She needs to go back, but she wants to stay here a little bit longer, in this cocoon of peace where the only sound is the faint trickle of the stream.

The gingerbread man calls to her, following her footprints to where she lies in the snow. He reminds her that the sled run he built needs to be broken in. She passed it on her walk to the ford: it dives down the trail, twists from side to side, before shuttling through two saplings toward the stream. The gingerbread boys are now up in a pine tree somewhere, hollering out to whomever is around.

Dinner can wait. She takes the red sled and decides to stay eleven for a bit longer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Happy Friday

And even though this week ended in much the same way it began (no school), it was a happy Friday. Why? Because I remembered to turn off the phones last night, so the blasted 5:30 am phone alert system wouldn't pull me from my happy place, like it did on Wednesday, when not only did I stumble across the room to the phone in a bleary, blurry lurch, I also fell into the drying rack (curse those all-cotton shrinkables!), as well as the laundry basket. Ok, I didn't actually fall into the laundry basket; I keeled over it and fell into the side of the bed. Ow.

But that was Wednesday.

I think.

Monday was, of course, a national holiday, so naturally we went sledding, cheering for civil rights each time we went down the hill.

On Tuesday, I fully expected a snow day, but the call never came. The email never came. So gingerbread boy #1 got ready, lugged his trombone up the driveway and waited for the bus. And waited. And waited some more. Then he came inside. The gingerbread man drove him to school, only to find out that school was cancelled because of the weather. Phone alert system. Fail. The antidote? Make chocolate chip cookies, of course.

And Wednesday. You heard about Wednesday. We shall not talk about Wednesday. Except to say that the call wasn't even for a snow day; it was for a two-hour delay. Grnack. That's the sound of me gnashing my teeth. Phone alert system. Fail again. Thankfully, we still had some cookies.

Thursday came. School? Oh yes. We remember that.

Vaguely.

Which brings us to today. Friday. Guess what? Another snow day. But today, I was not to be fooled. Last night, I turned off the phones again! Do you see me smirk in glee? Ha ha! I beat you, phone alert system!

Arising at a blessed hour, we filled our day with legos. With paints and new paintbrushes. With a search through old magazines for pictures to go along with poetry: vernal pools, yo-yos, and basset hounds. Diamonds, talc, and surfboards. Some children write about dogs or cats, or seasons of the year. Mine write about yo-yos.

And then there was snow. Lots and lots and lots of snow.

Next Monday is a scheduled day off--a teacher workshop day. And next Tuesday? Another storm is predicted. Maybe we'll make oatmeal cookies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lines and Circles

In some strange synesthesia-thing, she sees the year as a line stretching from January to December, which means that January always comes as a surprise. The line of each year stretches far, far out--way down the block--and then suddenly it stops. Ah. January. Here you are. Time for resolutions. Time for resolve.

Well. She can make a goal to finish a draft of the next novel. That's an easy goal to set. Not to achieve, but to set. And, um, hrm. There was that goal last year of taking vitamins and calcium that got side-swiped by all the medical tests at the beginning of the year. She figured back then that she should have her blood and urine unadulterated by even over-the-counter vitamins. And somehow, she never returned to it, even after all the testing was done. Then there was that goal about posture. Too much time spent huddling over the computer, huddling over babies, huddling over her books. Posture. She goes to yoga class--does that count? She decides it does. Good. Career goals. Check. Physical goals. Check. What about mental or emotional goals?

She thinks and thinks. Resolutions are supposed to be about developing good habits. Or undeveloping bad ones. What habits are needed? She already exercises. See? Here she sits in her car, yoga mat at her side, water bottle at the ready, multi-tasking! Mental boost, physical strength, and posture, all rolled up into one hour a week! She unrolls her mat in a teeny space at the back of the studio. The class is full of new goal-setters. Her teacher knows it and gives them an extra-difficult class, as if to weed out the wimps. After shaking muscles and lots of breathing, she lies flat on the mat in corpse pose, nearly dead after all that breathing and all that posing, and inspiration strikes. Here she had been trying to find balance by figuratively dancing on a plank laid on top of a pipe. Balance isn't to be found that way. She needs to be linear. She needs her life to be a straight line, on a flat surface. She needs to be a straight line. Like her mental image of the year. But how does one make a goal to be linear?

Most days, she goes in circles. Around and around, doing things that get undone. Shopping for food, cooking it, consuming it, dirtying dishes. Net result: calories. Washing herself, which only dirties the bathroom. Cleaning the bathroom, which in turn, dirties her. She washes clothes, only to wear them, and get them dirty again. And this doesn't take into account the gingerbread boys. The circle goes around and around and around. She needs to get somewhere. From point A to point B. Start to finish. She needs to find the end to something. December is an end. January is a beginning. Sure, they can be connected, but there's a period there, not just a semi-colon.

Back home, she folds the third load of laundry of the day, while dinner is cooking. The oldest gingerbread boy practices piano, playing a mixture of Bach's Inventions, Coldplay, and Do You Know the Muffin Man? Over and over he plays, song after song, circling back to Bach after playing the others. Doing and redoing and undoing all of these things makes her tired. Depression chips away at the lines in her life, until she's left with a dot, a sorry excuse for a circle.

Yes, she needs lines right now, not circles. Beginnings with happy endings. She's done with twirling around, spinning like a whirling dervish.