Sunday, August 21, 2011

1000 Miles: Day One

4802 steps. This is just shy of half the number of steps that my iPod set as my daily goal. Whoa. I will have to do some math to figure out the approximate distance. Not now. My plan for launching this grand experiment has coincided with a sudden case of sinusitis for me and my monkeys, so we are having some slow days.

Nonetheless, here are some things I've noticed already:

1. I have become conscious of the steps I am not taking. Every time I sit down at the computer or on the couch, my brain suddenly pokes me and says "No steps here!" and I feel like I should get up and walk somewhere.
2. My pedometer doesn't always count the "steps" I take when I'm crawling.
3. I crawl around a lot more than I ever realized.
4. It may take me years at this rate to walk a thousand miles.

It was just such a summer day, though! We needed to get out of the house. Starting with "baby steps" since no one was feeling particularly terrific, we did some chalk drawing in front of the house. I really wish my pedometer counted crawling steps because this involved a lot of crawling.
Do you recognize the painting?

We were emboldened by our artistic efforts, so after cleaning up hands and knees and filling bellies with lunch, we decided we all felt well enough to go to the park a few blocks from our house.

 These were my favorite steps of the day. Brilliant, surreal color, losing track of everything except the laughter of monkeys, the direction of the breeze, and keeping the kites in the sky.

 Then we needed a lot of underdogs.

Then a nap.

Until next time... keep stepping!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

1000 Miles

We've all heard the adage "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Heard it ad nauseum, probably. I was racing my monkeys around the block today and goofing with the pedometer on my iPod when I thought of that proverb. How many steps in a thousand miles? When we take the proverbial single step, do we know what's at the end of the thousand miles? Do we sometimes lose track of all of the steps in between and end up someplace else?
I'm going to attempt to answer some of these questions. I will be wearing my pedometer for the next 1000 miles of my life and journaling where all of those steps take me along the way as well as discovering where I wind up at the end of them all. Check back here for updates. Feel free to take your own journey and add your insights, too.

Oh, and in celebration of this new journey, click here for our theme song. Something else we've all heard ad nauseum, but catchy nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pie Is Important

(Originally written 22 May 2010 for a friend who made a disastrous pie for a dinner party)

House of pies I bought a cheap plastic belt on clearance a while back. When I discovered that it was far too big, I brought it to our local cobbler to have it shortened. I was a little embarrassed to be paying more to have the belt fixed than I paid for it in the first place and I told the cobbler's wife (who looks every bit like you would imagine a cobbler's wife should) "I know it's just a cheap plastic belt, but I love it and I want to wear it." The cobbler's wife fixed me in her gaze and pointed the frightening tool she was holding at me. "Don't denigrate the belt" she bellowed. I found this so startling and delightful that it has become a household phrase for us when we want to remind each other of the importance of the seemingly trivial. Don't denigrate the belt. Don't denigrate the pie, either.
Pie is very important. There's the process: patient cutting of butter into flour and rolling of crusts just so, getting the filling to that perfect point of firmness and flavor. There's the word: pie (or "pah", as it should be pronounced almost always) that is so small and terse, yet so fun and round. It is a deceptively simple dish in its finished form, but quite complicated and mysterious to make correctly. Pie has accompanied alarmingly many turning points in my life: I split a piece of pie with a friend at Waffle House in Bowling Green, Kentucky one night (all night) that ended up being the beginning of a major shift in my life's course; Daniel and I ate many slices of pie at House of Pies in Houston, Texas while hashing out wedding plans and imagining our future; I ate pie at Bob Evans in Toledo, Ohio as my labor started for the birth of my first child; I ate pie with my dad in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas a week before he died; last summer I felt compelled to bake pie during a heatwave that nearly melted Seattle (I can hardly be blamed for this lack of judgment in timing. Blueberries were ridiculously on sale and Esquire that month featured a spread of Mary Louise Parker baking pie in her underwear and I just had to try it. The recipe. Not the underwear.) And now, pie is once again accompanying the two of us on this grand experiment. Additionally, Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn required pie for writing the State of the Union. 
Do not denigrate the pie, indeed.
Now that pie is put in its proper place, I will admit, I don't really like to eat pie and I'm somewhat befuddled as to why it seems to have accompanied so many things in my life. Perhaps it's because I was in a mood for change in the first place and would mark that mood with a bold "I shall order pie!" sort of stand. In all honesty, most pies are a little too sweet or a little too gooey for my taste and in the custardy ones I can frequently taste every single egg used in the preparation. Even good pies that I've eaten, none of them has just swept me off my feet and sent me into ecstatic utterances like some cakes or cookies have done. Maybe the pie has accompanied the turning points because my senses were so full of other things that I wanted a dessert that was reliably "meh". Perhaps it's simply a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. I don't know.
So, full circle with the pie (tee hee). Take a large bite of that runny heavy-handed, lemon zesty turning-point pie and I will chew it virtually with you. I'll gulp it down with my cup of coffee and tell you "Yup, I've had better" and together we'll laugh and revel in the ability to look at something we've created and say "Whoa! That sucked!" and move gaily on, much the wiser. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Deep End

I've been faffing around with the idea of a blog forever and today's the day. Just going to dive right in. I'm a mom, but not a "mommy-blogger". I am interested in just about everything in the world and things that don't exactly interest me, at least provide some sort of horrid fascination.

I am intrigued by public dialogue, especially the type generated in the semi-anonymous, fictitious world of the Internet. I'm a completely hypocritical Luddite. I believe too much of our life is governed by assorted technologies that remove us from interacting with our world, our work, and with other people.
But here I sit at my laptop, listening to my iPod. When I finish typing this, I'm going to check my library account and my bank account on line and send a few emails to the parents in my daughter's class. So, yeah, I see the inconsistency there and it fascinates me.

Before I chose to stay home with my monkeys, I worked in mental health. I still work in mental health, I just don't get paid for it anymore. I knit, I sew, I cook, I read voraciously, I dabble in gardening and writing, I camp, I hike, I spend a lot of time listening and watching. I choose to believe that most of life is pretty funny and enjoyable and even the parts that really suck can be useful.

So there's my sort-of resume. It's all a bunch of nonsense, really. We're not a list of interests or careers or books read or favorite things. We are all of us complex, contradictory, wildly erratic, insane, beautiful creations. We're made of the little things that make up our every day - the things that happen out of the corner of our eye. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Congratulations on your bundle of freak

Some good friends of ours are due with their third child in September. They're one of those maddening couples who refuse to find out the gender of the baby before it's born, making it very hard on the potential gift-givers in their lives. 
I am so proud of myself, though. I started knitting a darling little sweater out of a scrumptous rust colored yarn: a little cardigan with Peter Pan collars and I'll finish it with some Noah's Ark buttons I found. It will be done in plenty of time for the baby's arrival and it will be the perfect weight for unpredictable September. Except...
I knit while I watch TV because, as one of my friends says, it's just mindless enough that it keeps you busy but you don't have to pay very close attention to it. Except for when you do. I was feeling like such a domestic goddess and good friend as I whipped up this little creation the other night. It just flew off my needles and I picked up those stitches so evenly for the glorious little Peter Pan collar which laid down just right. On one of the armholes. 
So now I'm confronted with the two choices that all knitters eventually face: I can either pull all that mess out and start over, or I can secretly hope that their baby is born looking like this:

Good Grief

My dad was born June 11, 1946. My dad died October 5, 2008. Here it is June 11, 2011 and I can't not remember that this date used to be his birthday. He would have been 65 today if he hadn't died suddenly while recovering nicely from a massive heart attack. More on that some other time.

 My degree is in psychology. I counseled people for a living before I had kids. People with real problems. I knew the stages of grief down cold. I was prepared. Or, you know, not. I'm not sure anyone is ever prepared for grief. There are things that no one tells you ahead of time. Or maybe they do and you don't know how to hear them. The one thing I never read in a book is how utterly exhausting grief is.

I remember that first few months after he died  like I lived inside a fish bowl and everyone around was hollering and tapping on the glass. Everything seemed muffled and amplified all at the same time. People around me became caricatures of themselves, their strongest qualities distorted and huge. Everything was a little bit too loud, too fast, a little out of sync.  There was static. A radio in my head permanently stuck between two stations, fading in and out. Sometimes I couldn't hear the person talking to me or finish the sentence I'd started because of the noise. And all of this I kept to myself. Boom! Denial. I wouldn't talk about it because I didn't want to be a burden. I wouldn't cry in front of anyone because my kids needed me to be strong. I wouldn't complain about it because so many people had it worse than I did.

And then I totalled my car. With my kids in it. The noise in my head had gotten so loud, my sleep deprivation so intense, my concentration so flighty that red looked green and I went. T-boned, spinning, airbags, hit 4 other cars, screaming, orange juice and zucchini in the street, smash. No one was hurt. When the officer came to take my report of the accident I stood on the side of the road and sobbed "My dad died!" So long, Denial.

I've never blamed my dad for dying. I've never been angry at him for leaving me too soon. I've never been angry at God and fallen screaming to my knees "Why, God, why?! WHY????" Nope. None of that. Not Angry. Not me. Unless you count the time I suddenly shrieked at some poor soul from the bank. Well, there was that time that my husband chewed his cereal too loudly near me just one too many times. Or when that lady stood too close to me at the grocery check out. Or when that man wouldn't move his car so I could get out of my parking spot. I am not, was not a generally angry or impatient person. I did, however, have a few months of sudden and immense rage that would boil up and over so quickly and so violently that I felt very near passing out when it was through.

But oh! My babies. My poor, darling monkeys. They have to live with this insane, distant, distracted, erratic mother. What have I done?! My daughter was 4 and fully aware of the situation when Dad died. She dealt with it well and in the nature of kids, bounced back rather nicely I thought. Until one night, six months after he died,  she burst into tears and howled:
"My chain is broken!"
"What, honey? What chain?"
"It was a chain and it was together and my family and Papa was at the top of it and now he's gone and it's broken and I miss hiiiiiiimmmm!"

Collapsed on the kitchen floor, sobbing with my wee girl, my Anger dissolved in her tears (mostly) and through no fault of hers, left some pretty fertile ground for Guilt and Depression. Not survivor's guilt. Griever's guilt. I thought I'd been holding up all right. I tried to keep any visible outbursts away from my monkeys. I tried to keep things as sane and life as usual around the house. And she saw me trying. She felt me trying. It stressed her out. It stressed me out. I'd failed her. Take any of your run of the mill maternal guilt (I'm not good enough, I'm screwing up my children, They will hate me and pierce their nipples when they get older, etc.) and multiply it times about a thousand. I also failed my husband who had to pick up my slack. I failed my mother and brother and sister who needed my strength. I failed my dad who wouldn't want to see me like this.  I also failed a lady at the park whose kid wanted to play with my kid and it was time to go home. I failed the landlady, a very startled group of women at church, my best friend from high school, the PTA, anyone I had ever known who had lost a loved one, the US Postal Service, my cat. And, most of all, I failed myself. So let the Bargaining begin.

I cooked gourmet meals and brought them to everyone I knew who was sick, had surgery, a new baby, a hang nail, a bad day. I volunteered for everything that needed to be done. I sewed dragon costumes for my daughter's dance class and for my daughter's dance teacher's two other dance classes. I called my mother every day. I donated to every cause that knocked on my door. I listened to every old lady I sat next to on the bus. I cleaned the garage, the closets, under the fridge.  I. Would. Do. This. I would make up for my grief. I would just work hard enough to pull us all through.

And then it was October again. I expected to be T-boned with raw emotion when the 5th rolled around and I braced myself for it. And then... nothing. Just relief. That year was done. I'd never have to do it again. I'd never again have to get that tear-soaked call from my mom in the wee hours of the morning. I'd never have to plan my dad's funeral again. I'd never have to have that first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first anything without him again. I was exhausted with grief. I was bored with it. I didn't want it grinding into my every day any more. After laboring and pushing it through for a year, I'd finally given birth to Acceptance and could just collapse in exhaustion and pull it close to my heart.

I've over-simplified, I've exaggerated, I've left out key details. I'm OK with that. Grief is necessary. Grief is messy and nonlinear, sometimes uncontrollable, irrational and insane. Grief is lonely. Grief is distracting and consuming. Grief is exhausting. And, ultimately, there comes a point where grief is just plain boring.  I celebrated my dad's would-have-been birthday today by playing in the yard with the kids, chatting with the neighbors, harassing an old friend, laughing with my mom, discussing furniture hardware and soccer with my husband, taking a nap and eating a cheeseburger. Good grief.

(Originally written 11 June 2011)

Crippling Inspiration

I just finished Enough About You by David Shields. I'm going to blame him for my lack of sleep this week. Whenever I get one of his books, I have to read it all in a wallop. He's a writer who defies genre - both overtly and covertly. While some people find his work tedious or confounding, I am one of the converted.
It feels like getting a letter from an old friend. Most of my reading time is after I've put the monkeys to bed, so into the wee hours I'm huddled over the book while my husband snores beside me. I'm giggling and I'm nodding in agreement, I'm thinking "Oh, shut up!",  sometimes I'm exasperated, sometimes I'm rolling my eyes, sometimes I'm  holding back tears, but I'm always inspired. Something about his writing triggers a rapid neuron-fire that makes my scalp tingle. I'm ready to write, I'm ready to conquer the world, but first I've got to go to sleep because the monkeys have a dentist appointment at the crack of dawn (who scheduled that?!) or I have a volunteer function to go to at school (do I have to?!) or any number of completely prosaic things that will demand my attention and relative degrees of wakefulness the next day.
So I do my walk of shame the next morning (or later the same morning).  I sit in the waiting room of the dentist's office, or in the school cafeteria or where ever my presence is required and I try to stay awake. I wonder if anyone can tell I didn't wash my hair or that I'm wearing yesterday's clothes.  If they see the bags under my eyes or notice that I've drifted off into another world altogether. Can they smell the six cups of coffee on my breath? Do they know that I spent the better part of the night entangled in the words of another man? Can I casually slip the book into conversation so I can keep thinking about it? Should I read the book again or just put it away and try to move on? Maybe I'll just read that one passage again. Maybe the whole chapter. No, I should just break it off. I need to get some sleep. How much longer do I have to talk to this person in front of me before I can sneak off someplace and write?
Then the adrenaline wears off and the doubt sets in. By the time I am alone again with my own words, I feel inadequate, silly, embarrassed by my ardor.  The inspiration from the night before has turned into paralysis. Is my sentence structure too bloated? My metaphors are too pale. How can anyone even look at such hairy punctuation? How can I ever be inventive enough to satisfy? A nauseous hangover that mocks the loud-mouthed ideas from the night before. The sexy, intellectual vixen has turned into a dowdy housewife, tittering self-consciously up her sleeve in cliches.
Sometimes my heroes are too good. They give me just enough commonality, enough of their humanity to feel akin to something, to feel like I've caught on, to inspire me to more. But then daylight comes and the words seize in my throat. They see my pen and a blank page and turn and run away. Or those words I'd merrily dominated the night before get up and rearrange themselves into one giant yawn: already been done, who cares?, charlatan, fake, tedious bore. So I sit here mute, used up, exhausted, crippled by inspiration.

(Originally written 10 June 2011)