Thursday, July 26, 2012


We used to go for drives late at night. Before kids, before rising gas prices, before sleep deprivation was problematic - we used to go for drives. We wound around on back country roads in Central Texas. Armed with coffee and mix tapes, we whizzed through towns with names like Dime Box and Snook. Our entertainment was songs on the radio, counting dead armadillos, and conversations that meandered and turned back on themselves as much as the roads we traveled.

We made plans, we talked about movies I'd never seen but should have, we argued over music and made each other listen to our favorite songs and proclaim them the best ever. We met and married quickly, and while we knew the essential things about each other, we had a lot of getting to know each other to do. Those back roads are paved with countless stories and dreams that we mapped into the network of our lives together.

"One day I want to have a villa," he said. "With an atrium. Lots of skylights and a huge deck for grilling and eating outside."

"Definitely. Al fresco is the best-co," This is part of why he loves me. I say ridiculous things. "I want to have a room just for my creative stuff. A place where I have space to sit and sew or paint or make things and then places to put it all away when I'm done."

"That would be nice," he had been concerned when my boxes of journals and paints and fabric and odds and ends were moved into our tiny apartment a few months earlier. My obsession with Mod Podge was not something we had discussed before the wedding. You'd better not sit still, my dad had warned, you might get Mod-Podged.

"I want to have a place to entertain people. Where people can just drop in and we can eat together and just hang out."

"I want to have a good kitchen. Nothing fancy, just big enough and designed to really cook in."

"If and when we have kids, I want to design spaces for them that are all their own. To let them pick the colors and the themes and decorate their rooms however they want to."

"I want to have a yard and lots of trees. Space to garden and grow things, but also be close to an awesome city so we can walk to the library or to get coffee or dinner."

All those years ago, while we drank our gas station coffee out of styrofoam cups and drove long into the quiet Texas night, we thought we were just giving voice to wishes and dreams. We thought we wanted something impossible. We thought it would never actually be ours. At the time we lived in a dingy little apartment in a dingy little apartment complex in Bryan, Texas. It was a two bedroom box with a "one-butt" kitchen and ants in every room. We didn't notice.

It was extravagant because it had two bedrooms - we had a whole extra room for our desk and computer and all my assorted junk. Our brand new dishes fit just fine in the cupboards and our hand-me-down and thrift store furniture barely took up the space. We hung our posters and returned all of the fussy crystal and fine china that the old ladies had insisted on giving us for wedding presents. We stayed up late building a bookshelf for our newly combined libraries. We ate fast food and scrubbed floors and arranged and re-arranged furniture and cupboards. We were sweaty and tired and deliriously happy in that limbo time between the summer and the new semester, the vacation time from work. We were in our little planet of us, newly married, looking toward the future and finally home.

We have just completed our tenth move in fourteen years. We've gathered a few more things and people to ourselves in the intervening years. We've replaced the rickety, homemade bookshelf with a real one. We've long since lost the college futon that served as a couch. We've gained a thousand toys and books for small hands and little bright eyes. We still have our same dishes, less new now, but still much loved. Our library has swelled to the point where we no longer remember whose books are whose. They are just ours. We have moved this stuff so many times - into rental houses, old Victorians divided into apartments, high rises, crack neighborhoods, more dingy apartment complexes, my parents' upstairs, and condos. All of these places, we have called home, because home is where ever we are.

These past few weeks we have lain under the skylight in the living room and watched the clouds move across the moon and listened to the rain fall in our atrium. I have unloaded my knitting and sewing and writing and my Mod Podge into the cupboards that surround my built-in sewing table. We have had friends come by to help us move and wish us well. We have eaten on our back deck, straight from the grill to the picnic table. I have unpacked my same old dishes and sparse cooking implements in our light-filled kitchen with vaulted ceilings and a wall full of windows, a space to eat and wrap-around counters to work on. We have stayed up late painting bedrooms to the exacting specifications of monkeys with a vision and listening to them revel in their space - "It's so great, Mom. I couldn't even imagine it was this great. I want to stay here until I'm all grown up." We have planned our plantings for next year, tidied up the built-in planter boxes and then walked to the library and the hardware store for a break.

We have eaten fast food and stayed up way too late scrubbing floors and arranging, re-arranging furniture and cupboards. We are sweaty and tired and deliriously happy in that limbo time between the summer and the new school year, the vacation time from work. We are in our little planet of us, feeling like newlyweds, looking toward the future and finally home

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Measuring Life in Mugs

I have measured my life in coffee spoons.
- T.S. Eliot

Appropriately, I have a coffee mug that bears this quote. A very dear friend with whom I have shared countless gallons of coffee sent it to me a few months ago. I am drinking my coffee out of it as I type this. I'm typing this while taking a break from packing up non-essential kitchen things.

As we get ready to move our lives to a new location, I have had the honor of culling our belongings and carefully packing them up. I have three boxes of coffee mugs. I have culled them and culled them, but there aren't any with which I can part.

It started on our honeymoon, fourteen years ago this week. We took a road trip from Texas, through the southeast up to Washington D.C. and then back down again by a different route. We were young, newly married and between jobs. We stayed in cheap motels, scouted local attractions, took detours on small state highways, got lost, reveled in each other and the freedom of a whole lifetime stretching out before us. We stopped in Hope, Arkansas and bought a mug with the Presidential seal and Bill Clinton's autograph in gold. We bought it at a gas station and amused ourselves endlessly with the joke about Hillary's ex-boyfriend pumping gas. Our vagabond honeymoon road trip also brought us a Sun Studios mug from Graceland and one with the American Rover, a tall ship from Norfolk, Virginia.

Today I packed up New Mexico, acquired on a golden trip to Santa Fe for my thirty-first birthday. The Big Texan Steakhouse from Amarillo, Texas. We took a long, meandering trip through Oklahoma, West Texas and New Mexico to avoid the storms of Hurricane Rita, packed into the car with our cat, our computer and our baby girl with no place in particular to go except away. What better to do than to go to the Big Texan? A gaudy monstrosity of a tourist trap where if you can eat what amounts to an entire pot roast in ninety minutes or less, it's free. That sums up both Texas and America right there: the land where there are restaurants in which you can eat an obscene amount of steak on a stage for all to see while cowgirls refill your sweet tea. In keeping with our obsession with obscene American things, we have a mug from the world's largest McDonald's that spans the interstate somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma.

We have the Detroit Institute of Arts from a trip we made on our first anniversary to visit dear friends in Michigan. It was on that trip that we made our first decision to move across country, from Texas to Michigan, for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea. We have a Canadian one hundred dollar bill mug to mark another anniversary trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We have not one, but two "Starry Night" mugs, given to me as gifts by people who know my love of both Vincent Van Gogh and coffee.

We have a Beijing Starbucks mug, a Paris Starbucks mug. A beautiful, bright red "Seattle's Best" mug - sent to us as a Christmas gift from Texas the first year we lived in Seattle. That confounds me and makes me laugh to this day. Seattle's Best coffee around here is called "Seattle's Beast". It is the Folgers of local coffee. From it, I drink the delightful irony of having been sent a tourist mug from my own city from 2000 miles away. We have one with a picture of an old timey automobile and my son's name in Gothic font across the bottom. A gift from an aunt when our Hooligan was born. He accidentally shares a name with his great grandfather and the mug used to belong to him.

I have an emerald green glass mug that is etched with a labyrinth from New Harmony, Indiana. I attended a conference there in college, my first time ever to spend the night away from my husband. The mug is beautiful and holds such loneliness and excitement together in its labyrinth. We have a Las Vegas mug from a trip to see dear friends in L.A. We got a cheap flight to Vegas, spent the night and drove across the desert. I drink from this mug and remember being so newly pregnant and morning sick, bewildered by the clanging and the flashing lights of the casinos and running, retracing Hunter S. Thompson's steps, looking for the Rat Pack and the cast of Ocean's Eleven and finding only sunburned and drunk tourists from Ohio.

Our short stint of attempting to assimilate in Huntsville, Texas is commemorated with a mug of Big Sam and bears the inscription: "The world's tallest statue of an American hero." They are not lying, either. A 200 foot statue of Sam Houston stands by the freeway and glows white at night, scaring the tar out of unsuspecting travelers. This mug tastes of miscarriage, WalMart, doubt and death row. I keep it to remind me where we've been, what we've escaped and what we can do if we're together.

Today my jBird and I carefully wrapped all these mugs along with dozens of others and packed them away to bring to our new house. On top, I placed my latest acquisition: a mug I got at the drugstore a few months ago with the name of the neighborhood that we are leaving on it. This neighborhood that has been so good to us for the last six years with its Norwegian festivals and salmon runs and drawbridges. I will miss some things about living in this neighborhood, but I'm ready to move on, to see what lies ahead. I'll have my mug to remind me of these days that smell of salt water and roses; of watching my baby girl start to school, of bringing my baby boy two blocks home from the hospital and arguing with the nurses who didn't want me to walk home; of raspberries and pears in the back yard and the progression of tricycles to training wheels to two wheels for both of my monkeys on the front sidewalk. This mug holds heartache, fear, and sadness like I have never known. It also holds silliness and success; pure, quiet contentment and deep satisfaction. It holds triumph, ambition, growth and many, many milestones.

I take my coffee black and strong, so there is no need for spoons. But yes, Mr. Eliot: I can measure my life in coffee mugs.