Wednesday, February 27, 2008

all the layers

dots, stripes, stripes

I've heard at least several mentions in so many days of some newly engineered onion which will not make you cry. And this onion, so I've heard, will taste and react in all other aspects just as you expect an onion should, minus that one little thing. No tears. And I can just about see why that might be a desirable thing. I am especially sensitive to even the weakest, half-withered onion and fat drops roll down my face as I tend to my chopping most nights. But it's an onion. That's what they do. For every reluctant pot of soup I've ever thrown together with random ingredients culled from a bare pantry and noticed, upon first taste check, the obvious absence of onion, I can't buy that they can remove the cry and leave the rest behind. I won't believe it even if they insist it to be so. I won't deny an onion its onion-ness any more than I would keep my daughter from being who she is. I could steer her toward safer wardrobe choices, respectfully request she consider choosing something that goes together (says who?) more than her typical eccentric fashion, but why would I? She tends to alternate from a monochromatic ensemble one day to some crazy mishmash of patterns and colors and textures the next, the latter often drawing a smidge more public notice or comment at times than I tend to prefer for myself. I could encourage her to take off a few layers (the girl, she likes her layers) or consider switching the stripes for a solid or maybe ditch a few of the necklaces. One might say, despite her poise and confidence and brilliant enthusiasm for her own brand of fashion, that some of her outfits might make my eyes water, figuratively speaking. But that's who she is. And to ask her to change into something else would change her. It would spoil the fantastic pleasure she finds in putting outfits together and she'd look the same, she'd seem the same, she'd probably still be just about as witty and sharp and interesting. Just about. But it would change her in some tiny way and a tiny drop of water can carve a canyon, eventually. Even take the change part (the biggest part, really) out of the equation and I'll say that dabbing at my teary eyes with the back of my onion-juicy hand is a little diner making ritual I don't care to lose. Not because I particularly like hoping that I don't chop off my finger as I finish up the last few slices with my eyes inadvertently clamping shut in opposition, no. Not because I have an endless supply of fresh responses to the, "oh no, Ma, why are you crying?" affectations I get from that sharp dressing girl of mine, no. I support holding on to as many rituals as one can notice. I believe that even brief annoyances can be important. I think if we could lump a whole lot of annoying things up and eliminate them all at once, our collectives lives would instantly become that much more bland. I'll keep my weepy onions and my sparky kid, thanks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

it's like this

walked with the children all over town. visited a few friends. dropped my girl (and an overnight bag and a sleeping bag) off at her friend's house for her first sleepover ever. walked home. boy crashed out asleep, all thirty five pounds of him, on my back in the ergo. if i took him out, he'd wake up, which would be okay, since it's after five, but i would rather wait and have him wake up rested and pleasant. it's payday. maybe the three of us will walk up to mcmenamin's for dinner. so when i walked in the door, with the sleeping boy on his back, i had to pee. it was hard to unbutton my jeans with the ergo on. got the pants down, emptied my bladder, now what? pants around my thighs, shuffle to the dining room, sit here at the laptop. decide to wake him up (my shoulders vote Yes) or not (the soft sound of his breath in my ear is a peaceful cadence i don't want to stop).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

some kind of fog

like a damp blanket

I told you they were teaser days. Yesterday the sky was a wet wool blanket, the precipitation practically clinging to the surface in tiny, spitty balls. I love the Northwest. I love the loamy smell and the moist air and the softness of the colors. It suits me. We moved back here, in part, because the climate and the geography resonate with us like no other.

But here's the thing. . . I grew up in the desert. I come from people who grew up in the desert. I spent my formative years, scorched and freckled, running barefoot over hot sand. I'm starting to think maybe this means something. As in, it just occurred to me just right now, oh, ten minutes ago, to wonder if while my disposition is surely suited to this place, my physiology might expect something quite different.

My recent yearly check-up exam revealed a "tragically low" (her words, not mine) Vitamin D deficiency. Couple this with more rushing white noise in my head than normal and the most formidable Ennui opponent I've yet to face (okay, there I am, using that silly word again, without a lick of irony) and the knowledge that, though I didn't ever really hit it off with Arizona, I never felt this way there, well. . . when I say I'm duplicitous, I'm not speaking lightly. It's indisputable that some chemical reactions are askew within. The question is whether or not this could have anything to do with my body determining a set point, expecting a certain level of sunlight, from having lived my first twenty years in the Southwest or not. It sounds plausible.

The plan is to be more mindful with my diet, fine tune my supplements, wait for Spring, and see what happens. But in the meantime, I am still appreciative of the gray and the rain that feeds the soil and makes this place I love. I like the variety, the knowing that in a few months, the fog will lift and the skies will be reliably, if not constantly, clear.

Monday, February 18, 2008

the family that bikes together. . .

the family that bikes together. . .

I'd like to think that I'm living my life so that, when it reaches the point of a natural, culminating sigh many decades from now, I won't have many regrets. I guess it would ultimately be nice to to not have any regrets at all, but I've already screwed that part up. I already have this one thing that haunts me and hurts me and wakes me up in the night with the sweet gnawing of a bittersweet memory. This one thing, more than any other thing, that makes me wish I had a time machine and could travel backwards and fix it.

When my nine year old daughter was about the age her brother is now, which is to say smack in the middle of the wild and wonder of toddlerhood, we had a rickety, vintage tandem bicycle and a lopsided, but sturdy, front-mounted child seat and our little family tooled all over the lovely green city of Portland. Wait, this sounds pretty nice, right? A bicycle built for three? It was nice. It was nicer than nice. It elicited smiles from passers-by and random strangers, it made our muscles stronger and our days more pleasant, it became the memory that serves, almost more than any other, as a fantastic marker of what was one of the sweetest, easiest times in my life (she says in the fullness of hindsight). So you're thinking Where's the regret, right? What would I go back and change?

I do not have one picture of this time. Not one. I don't have one tangible snapshot of the three of us on two wheels save for the loose and fuzzy tendrils that are all tangled up in my head. I can't remember, exactly, what our helmets looked like or what shoes I wore. I'd wrap up my right pants leg (jeans cut off at mid-calf, probably) to keep from getting caught in the chain, but what did I use? I can't remember. Sometimes Freya would hold something, a flower, a scarf, a little stuffed animal, and wave it from her front seat perch but I cannot recall a precise example of what that might have looked like.

I confess that, at the time, I always appreciated how sweet it was. I always felt like I was holding some secret powerful treasure, just the thrill and contentment of whirring along together like that, of cutting through city parks to avoid traffic, stopping to play when we felt like it, noticing things one doesn't notice by car, seemed so perfect that I couldn't believe such a thing could be so easily found and kept. It didn't take much more than grabbing a water bottle, snapping on our helmets and setting off to find pleasure and purpose. It was just that sweet and easy. And I knew it. I knew it was sweet and I knew it was special but I don't know how I didn't manage to never take one picture. I remember musing that maybe we'd get our photos in the newspaper: it's not every day you see a little family on one bike! And the grins and double-takes we received confirmed this. Portland's one of the (if not THE) most bicycle friendly cities in the whole flipping country, what newspaper wouldn't want a little picture of us in the Living section, at least? But we never got our picture taken for the newspaper; we never got our picture taken at all.

I think maybe it was one of those everyday (special and dear, but still. . . everyday) things that just happens so regularly it doesn't always occur to one to document with a photo. I'm better about this now, what with the ease of digital pictures these days. I was mindful of it then, taking pictures often (but not as often as now!), but still maybe thinking, a little, that it would last. There's no hurry. She's so little. We'll zip around the city like thise forever! We're the little biking threesome!

But, oh! the rate at which little turns into big! She soon outgrew her little seat and we upgraded to a swanky trailer. We pulled her on the back of the tandem, all set-up back there with books and stuffed animals and snacks, until the massive length of our transport, and my daughter's precarious proximity to cars, started worrying me, and I finally got a bike of my own. So then the husband would pull the trailer and I'd take the protective tail position in my blue Schwinn cruiser (or the other way around, depending on our route and my gumption that day). And just like that, our three-on-one days were over.

We've moved around a lot in the last few years and our biking situation has fluctuated plenty. After the trailer, Freya moved to a trail-a-bike for a few years as she became a proficient rider herself. The day after she took her first two-wheeled ride, she joined her dad for a four mile jaunt through our neighborhood. So it didn't take long until her pride grew larger than the trail-a-bike would allow and she was keeping up right there with us, riding right alongside on her own bike.

A year ago, we purchased a new front-mounted seat for the little guy and we started our first family of Four rides. But soon after this, we left Arizona for Oregon and, in the mess of living in a temporary apartment with all of our things in storage for six months, and then moving into our current house and, well, winter, it wasn't until this last weekend (a couple of those bright and clear teaser days that makes one a little less hungry for spring) that I got my bike out. Which is to say, I hadn't ridden in nearly a year. The husband and daughter touched their bikes a little, we haven't been, as a family institution, completely off of wheels, but it was just now that we finally went on a ride all of us together.

It was so fantastic. So fantastic that after Saturday's extended ride, I was anxious for a Sunday repeat. There is a new sort of thrill in racing my nine-year old down a hill, in surprising her when I overtake her coming back up the same hill, in being together in this, new older way. Her brother rides in his little seat in between the husband's arms and takes it all in, with delight and excitement, just like his sister did some seven years ago.

We still have the rickety old tandem. It hasn't been ridden at all in five years. It's more rickety still. But the daughter makes regular requests for its repair. She suggests that we attach the front-mount kid seat and, for this purpose only, pull out the old trail-a-bike. A bicycle for all four! We could ride down any street and make an instant parade, just like that. Time is short and life is busy and on the long list of things to do and duties to attend to, fixing a rusty bike isn't high up there. But if we do fix it up, if we replace the rotten tires and tighten the screws and true the wheels, you can bet I'll take a picture.

Friday, February 15, 2008

for kids, for families, for you!

It's Friday, so you know what that means? Another TMBG Podcast For Kids to download! They Might Be Giants know exactly what happened to all of their fans from the late eighties and early nineties: they grew up and had babies. And those babies grew up on TMBG tunes. All the old, favorites their parents dig are still around, but wait, the band's been making extra special children's music for a while, which made, in our family anyway, all the more reason for calling them our favorite band. In preparation for a new cd release (Here Come the 123s, a follow up to the Here Come The ABCs several years back), they've been sending out video podcast teasers every week. I can't tell you how much we love these. Actually, the new album might be out already (I'm not so hip as knowing specific release dates) and the Friday Night Podcasts might be a thing of the past already, but if you don't have them in your itunes library, I urge you to download them all straight away. My children love them, love them and I find the songs super catchy, too, and the animation charming and John and John just as witty and wonderful as ever. They're all up in various youtube locations, as well, but we like having them right on the laptop and on my ipod. I buy myself five extra sleepy minutes of stretching in bed every morning by turning one on for the boy when we wake up. I think there are eight or nine total, and all are terrific, but I think the family winner (certainly the one we sing and hum the most) is still the Never Go To Work song I posted several entries back. Okay!

Friday, February 08, 2008

little bits from other places

I can't compartmentalize. Everything swirls together in my head, in one murky glob, sometimes shimmering like a chemical rainbow on wet tarmac, and sometimes, well, sometimes not. And it can just be a challenge, a simple real estate dilemma, with disparate observations jockeying for the same pieces of my brain. It's a little tight up there, with all the noise and noticing and over-analyzing. If I stick to the precarious real estate analogy, I could follow that with so much competition for my thinking space, every random notion becomes more valuable. Your basic supply and demand. I find strange comfort in that, in letting the odd ideas move in right alongside the sanguine, expected passing thoughts about life (and by life, I mean my life, which is mostly relegated to the categories of Mothering and What's for dinner), and regarding each one as an important part of who I am. So, important, but no less odd. Like the other day, for example. I was at the doctor's office (regularly scheduled ladyparts look-see) and in the waiting room, I had this moment of swirling madness where I couldn't quite reconcile the contrast of what was happening in the waiting room, what was happening in the book I was reading, what was happening in the whole world. And I could just about see myself as a tiny pinpoint and do that pull back, higher and higher and higher thing you see in movies, or google earth: the waiting room, my town, the state, the country, the planet, all of time and eternity, right there and the horror and wonder of it all screaming in my ears.

It shouldn't surprise you that I was reading The Grapes of Wrath. I sure talk about it enough. But I'm like that. I am such a creature of habit. I grind a path and then plod, predictably, in the same bare ruts. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book for reading whenever I don't have anything else to read. I have the audiobook on my ipod (and if you haven't experienced it as read/performed by Dylan Baker, then I suggest you remedy that straight away. I love it so much I can't even really tell you) and listen to that a lot, too. It's not just my favorite fill-in-empty-space book, it's my Favorite Book. I opened the book several chapters in, after the Joads started in the Hudson heading west, but before they reached California, in the thick of the worry, the uncertainty, the humility of needing to trade one's shoes for gas. A tangential inner dialog sparked, considering potential possible correlations from that era to our country's shaky future. And what I said elsewhere (when I wrote about this in my other place, which, yes, makes these rambles a little bit recycled, but you know how I feel about secondhand stuff and, also, I don't use complete sentences or even proper punctuation over there) was that the contrast, between the frail but tenacious old man holding onto his walker and worrying about his wife's Alzheimer medication, the young pharma-rep chippies in pantsuits talking about "getting drinks later" while waiting to unload their samples and swag, and the desolation and exquisite hope in Steinbeck's meandering, perfect prose all swirling around me right there felt very powerful and beautiful and painful.

Oh, bother. That's a very run around sort of preamble to yet another mention of Hi, I keep meaning to write more here and I keep not doing a very good job of it. I can't separate the tedious details, the t.m.i. and the incriminating evidence from the boiled down, reduction of the parts best fit for public consumption. I write elsewhere for myself, to purge and be done and start fresh, but the reverse of that tactic is proving inefficient here. It all seems so shallow. And so incomplete. I guess I need a focus. If not purging the minutiae, then what? I lack practice in forming words for any other reason. I'm not a crafter, I'm not a mommyblogger (I'm a mother with a blog, but even writing about my children feels too precious and unreal and I tread lightly there), I avoid politics, I'm not full of smart essays others want to read. I'm just plodding along and trying to write a little about it. It doesn't have to be smart to be a piece of my truth, another slice of my life, of all life, another chance to make myself available to the real, tangible connections that can form and happen in this virtual world.

I don't have to imagine what life would be like without this deep pool of people and ideas and relationships available through the internet, I just have to remember. I'm actually quite friendly and chatty and comfortable in most situations, should you happen to run into me some time, but there are some things in life that one enjoys quite a bit once the thing has started, but which one isn't likely to initiate oneself. (I'm sure that's as much of a double entendre as it seems to be, but no worries, I'm not headed that direction). I am not as lonely as I would be otherwise, as I have been, because of connections that start in my magic flashing box before migrating into three-dee space. Some folks are so talented at creating community. Drop them in a new town and they'll be organizing civic events and hosting dinner parties in a few weeks. Not me. I like to be a part, but I'm not very good at making it happen without a deliberate invitation. I've humorously remarked in the past that I'm always secretly waiting for a random band of merrymakers in party hats to show up at my door for a good time. It's not that I don't like to make merry, it's not that I don't enjoy being a part of a community greater than my own, immediate four walls, it's that I'm not so inclined to initiate it on my own. And knowing that about myself, having some presence online, however small and inconsistent, keeps me a little closer to something resembling sanity.

Years ago, I entered the virtual world by participating on message boards. I met some folks I still know on a now-defunct mama site. And in those years, it was enough to talk about breastmilk and the incessant cloth vs. disposable debate and feel a connection. I still veer toward folks who parent in a manner that's somewhat reflective of my own, but the older my older kid gets, the more I realize how little a lot of that stuff really matters, after all. (oh, it matters and I'm just as determined in a lot of my ideals as ever, but they're not enough to sustain relationship, that's all I mean). And then I made the organic transition that a lot of folks made from message boarding to live journaling. I approve of the shift in online community. The way we went from everybody talking at once to carefully inviting a particular group of friends over to share in our conversations. It became more intimate. And this seems even more personal, this blog with a specific url one must decidedly click to, as opposed to scrolling by quickly on a livejournal friendslist. I like having both. I sometimes feel guilty taking up the cyberspace with pointless rambles, but it doesn't have to be profound to be important. It's not always in the words, it's just in the being there. In the being here. With you. Whoever you might be, reading this.

I appreciate the visual community at flickr as much as reading along with my favorite bloggers (who may or may not be listed on my sidebar there. I'm shy about linking to folks I don't know). I play scrabble with my husband on facebook. Oh sure, we sleep in the same bed, you think we'd be able to manage a regular board game now and again, but it's easier to have a game going online and get to it when we can and not worry that the little boy in the house has already fed the extra tiles to his dump truck. Are you on the facebook? I'd play scrabble with you, too, and we can ward off the Alzheimer's together. And that's about as thin as I'm spreading the online representation of myself these days. Which is about as equally thick as any real time self of mine is spread. It's all legit and adds layers to my days. Community happens in all sorts of places.

And here's a story you can hardly believe, but it's true, and it's funny and it's beautiful. There was a family of twelve and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They built a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They pulled it out to the side of 66 and waited. And pretty soon a sedan picked them up. Five of them rode in the sedan and seven on the trailer, and a dog on the trailer. They got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them fed them. And that's true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.

The people in flight from the terror behind -- strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.

-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
the last 2 paragraphs of Chapter 12

Sunday, February 03, 2008

notes to myself

bathroom sticky note

For the past seven or eight or so years, I've started a new at-a-glance weekly calendar every January. I'm pretty good at writing down important dates and items and numbers and things to do in it. It's the checking it daily part that always slips by. Which pretty much loses the whole point. I forget to make that pressing phonecall, I skip through a whole week thinking that an upcoming doctor's appointment is on Tuesday, not Wednesday. But I keep buying them and I keep scribbling away inside of them and I keep filing them away at the close of every year into boxes of memorabilia. Why? Because I really like to look through and remember later. I really like having records that remind me of the tiniest pieces of our days, the little scraps that can be stapled and scotch-taped and pasted together, to make a hollow shape of this here life. This time right now, these days which seem so full of slogging through the unpleasant parts and dull work that I almost want to choke it down, swallow it quickly and get it over with already. Almost. But the sweetness on my lips lingers long enough for me to know that someday I'd gladly have more scudgey bathrooms or menacing mounds of laundry or, even, tearful, sleepy cries for MAMA! as I'm settling in on the couch with a movie to just be here, right now, again, a little longer. The sweet parts will grow even sweeter and the bitter parts won't hold so tightly onto their acrid tang. But the problem with constructing some shape, in the future, of this time when my children are still young, out of day planners and digital data and children's saved artwork and store receipts that get washed and dried and turned into fuzzy little balls at the bottoms of pockets, is that it won't stand up on its own. I won't be able to crawl inside of it and stand very still and hear them breathing while they sleep.