Thursday, January 28, 2010

Limp Lettuce

It's been a lot of limp lettuce around here in the writing department. I can't get a decent blog post to squeeze out of me, and when it comes to my bookus (think fetus), I've been stuck in the middle of a stale scene for days. The characters are on the verge of picketing and calling the union on me.

But the kitchen has remained clean! The counters are wiped down and the floor got a steam bath yesterday!

I'm all about imbalance, borrowing time and energy from some important part of my life to feed another. Teetering on the edge of knowing what I'm doing and second-guessing everything. When I'm frustrated creatively, my practical side vacuums and dusts. If I'm running away from writing, I find solace in the laundry. It makes me feel less guilty to be slacking off creatively if I'm using the time to tidy. Quit nagging me, Creative Side, I'm doing something really important! LAUNDRY IS REALLY IMPORTANT! Sheesh!

If you ever come over and the sink is piled with three-day-old dishes and there's no clean socks, you can be sure that I'm on a writing roll. Or that there's been a Project Runway marathon on TV. 

It's a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, except that Peter and Paul were big-hearted disciples who preached about forgiveness. I'm robbing Martha Stewart to pay Judi Dench, and you don't want to mess with either of those chicks.

The problem with imbalance is that I'm forever letting some piece of myself down. I'm in constant apology to Neglected Things I Should Be Doing. Is this the plight of every adult? At least the women? I jalopy my way through every week. On Monday morning, I'm determined to finally get it right, but when I close the door on Friday, I'm shrugging my shoulders saying, "Oh well."

Is it because I want and need to be doing too many things? Or because I don't get enough whole grains? Or is it because I never read any of those Stephen Covey books?

I think I'm going to make a study of Snoopy the dog; he totally seemed to have it all together.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to Where it All Began

For most people, seventh-grade English is inconsequential, a stepping stone filled with worksheets and grammar books and simple themes in classic stories. Most people don't walk into seventh-grade English looking for a spouse. Of course, I didn't either, but I got one. I totally won the seventh-grade English grand prize lottery.

I can still picture Mrs. White's classroom. It was on the second floor of the school, blue carpet, green chalkboards in the front, and a row of windows in the back. Her neat cursive writing displayed the latest lesson in chalk. I joined the class the first day of the second quarter of school. In fact, my whole schedule had been revamped and it felt like the first day of school all over again, except that I was months late and everybody else already knew what was going on. Oh, I was nervous, as evidenced by the seventeen changes of clothes that morning.

I was shown my seat near the front of the room, right behind a boy named Ryan. And even though seventh-grade boys and girls don't generally mingle comfortably on the first day of the second quarter of seventh grade (that generally happens on the last day of the fourth quarter), something clicked. We began talking, which, as it turns out, is one of the things we do best. We were talking prodigies, ready for the Talking Olympics, and born for marathon conversations.

By the second day of class, Mrs. White moved me across the room. Who could blame her? (Although, if you're going to talk excessively, shouldn't it be in English class?)

Fast-forward 20 years.

Ryan and I were working one day at our respective laptops when he said, "You're never going to believe this." He went on to read an email from Mrs. White! As luck and Google would have it, she'd tracked him down after finding out that he'd grown up and tackled a PhD and become a professor. I'm guessing that aside from immediate family, nobody is more tickled with that kind of accomplishment than your seventh-grade english teacher.

Mrs. White also mentioned that she would be in Washington, D.C., for a conference and asked if we'd be interested in meeting for dinner. Our answer: Oh, yes!

It was the kind of moment you don't expect to have in life, unless you're someone like Oprah who coordinates these emotional meetings every other day. (We did it without Oprah!) We'd done all the correspondence by email, which is why, when I heard Mrs. White's voice on the phone Saturday afternoon to touch base and confirm, I let out a giggle. The sound of her voice took me back immediately to my seat in the corner of her classroom. I almost expected her to ask me if I had my homework to turn in.

We met on a busy D.C. street, exchanged hugs, introduced our children and her husband, and waited for a table. We then enjoyed a few hours together, reminiscing and catching up. She looked older, but not 20 years older. I'm sure it was Ryan and me who had changed the most. But, then so much seemed the same. She still had the same enthusiasm for education; it's practically infectious. And Ryan and I still have the same knack for wanting to sit by each other.

Of course, it couldn't go without pointing out that Christian, our son, is approximately the same age that we were when it all began. He didn't seem as freaked out and amused by it as we all were, staring at his young face and realizing the sheer unlikelihood of our story. I mean, really! What are the odds?!

We parted ways again on the street, exchanging hugs, and promising to keep in touch. I don't need Oprah to tell me--this was a night to remember forever.

I've mentioned before that much of middle school and high school was hellishly terrible and terribly hellish. It was so nice to revisit and relish in a good memory. It was nice to be reminded that the worst of times was also the best of times, that winning the seventh-grade English class grand prize lottery may have been accompanied by some pretty steep taxes, but at the end of the day, I was still the big winner.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Hope This Isn't One of Those "You Had to Be There" Stories

In order for you to appreciate this story I need you to get a voice in your head, a voice with a thick Indian accent. Perhaps you have an Indian friend's voice you can summon, or perhaps you've watched enough episodes of Seinfeld or The Simpsons to prepare you for this task. But whatever you do, do not read further until you have that voice readily available.

Okay? Okay.

Way back in 2008, when we were making arrangements for our mass exodus from Utah, I took the responsibility to arrange our new home and car insurance. Lucky for me, our realtor offered a complimentary service to help folks like us. I was put in touch via email with a man named Zia who would take our information and then fetch several quotes. We arranged homeowners insurance over email, but when it came to car insurance, Zia decided that it was better to talk it over on the phone. So he called me.

When I answered and he introduced himself, I found that Zia had a thick Indian accent and a big heart. He was kind and encouraging about my family's upcoming move as we chit-chatted a bit. Then, we began talking car insurance. He explained that there were several different policies to consider when it came to car insurance and that they varied mostly in coverage amounts, and then he began going over them one by one. (Okay, it's time to summon that voice and read this in your thick Indian accent.) Said he:

"In this poe-lee-see, you would have one hundred thousand dollars of coverage per person and a five hundred dollar deductible in the event of an accident--" and--this is where it gets funny--he paused and in a low, humble voice sincerely said, "You know, God forbid anything happen to you or your fam-ee-lee."

Because, you know, insurance is all about imagining horrific, worst-case-scenarios. And even though Zia was so kind and sincere, this made me giggle. Something about the accent mixed with the sincerity just put me over the edge and I had to put my put my hand over the receiver while I bit my lip and tried to swallow my laughter back.

I finally managed to say, "Uh huh," without laughing.

Zia read the next poe-lee-see detailing the deductible and amount of coverage and ending with the same preventive, sincere prayer, "God forbid anything happen to you or your fam-ee-lee."

And I'm telling you, it was even funnier the second time.

But it really got funny on the third round of "God forbid anything happen to you or your fam-ee-lee."

In fact, I completely lost focus of any of the information he was giving me and instead braced myself for the next one. Like a fabulous thrill ride at an amusement park, I waited through each poe-lee-see explanation with equal dread and giddy anticipation. It was so, SO funny, and yet, I had to keep it together and not laugh.

And with each time he said it--God forbid anything happen to you or your fam-ee-lee--it was as if it became more and more painful for him to keep talking about the hypothetical car accidents that would be covered by these contracts. He became more and more somber and I could almost see him shaking his head reverently, pained to have to speak of such things.

And across the country, on the other end of the line, I too was shaking my head as tears of supressed laughter were streaming down my face. Say it again! Say it again! I was thinking, and then, Wait! No! Don't say it again! I'm going to snort!

"God forbid anything happen to you or your fam-ee-lee."

I think Zia read about 15 total policies to me. I had no idea which one was the best. I finally managed to think about cancer patients and natural disasters long enough to sober up and say, "Which one do you think is best, Zia?"

I was reminded of this story because we switched car insurance policies this morning. As it turns out, the policy I chose with Zia wasn't the most economical. But, you know, the good news is that nothing happened to me or my family. I think it's safe to say we have Zia to thank for that.

Thank you for your participation in this interactive blog post.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesdays Were Made for Random

I'm suspicious of the tomato sauce on the stove. I'm making it for the first time after reading a rave review of the recipe. It only has three ingredients. It seems too easy and good to be true. But I should probably give it a chance. If I were a three-ingredient tomato sauce, I would want a chance. So, I'm withholding judgement while it simmers.

I'm glad that the days are getting longer and that my schizophrenic experience with winter evenings will begin to improve. In the winter, I can't tell the difference between 6:15 and 11:43 and 9:27. They all look the same to me, and they all feel like 11:59.

I shouldn't use the term "schizophrenic" incorrectly like that. It drives Ryan nuts. And for that matter, "nuts" is not a clinical term either. Please accept my apologies.

I have mixed feelings about watching the news, especially when it comes to tragedies. I think it's good to be informed and to be acquainted with reality, but for me, immersing myself in coverage of a tragedy that I can't help more than I already have becomes debilitating. It weakens me from the inside out.

I have a large zit forming on my jaw. It's a heavy-duty zit and it means business. I felt it under the skin days before I could see it. This zit was written and directed by James Cameron and has been years in the making. Buy your tickets now; it's gonna be big.

That's all for now. I have to go stir the sauce. I'm cautiously pessimistic.

Update: The sauce was fine. Better than I feared, but not heavenly. I think I might try it again with two more ingredients: garlic and garlic. And I think I'll let it roast all day in the crock pot.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Any Way You Slice It

A lot of my weekend revolved around pizza, good pizza. If you want to have a good weekend, make it revolve around good pizza. You're guaranteed success.

On Friday night, my neighbor called and asked if we wanted to get together for dinner. Unlikely as it was, I preferred not to go out. Instead, I invited them over for homemade pizza. The kids ate in the family room and watched TV while the four adults sat around my kitchen island talking and eating a parade of pizzas as they came out of the oven: barbeque chicken pizza, honey chicken pizza, and Thai chicken pizza. We didn't use plates; we barely used napkins. We ate and licked our fingers and talked and talked and talked. When we ran out of pizza, I sliced pears and oranges and we talked while we ate those too.

Saturday afternoon, I got a text invitation from another neighbor. A new pizza place had been discovered. We accepted the invitation and bid the kids farewell. We ate broccoli rabe and sausage pizza in a dark corner while Ryan told us sad stories. If you're going to hear a sad story, make sure you're eating really good pizza. At one point, I used the bathroom. The stall was decorated with framed pictures of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and a young, vibrant Elvis. I asked them to close their eyes while I tinkled.

Sunday afternoon, I made another honey chicken pizza for lunch. Max said that once he removed the chicken, the pizza was, "so, sooo good." (As compared to so-so good.)

Today, a day off, we ate pizza again. My nephew, the D.C. intern, came to visit. We took him with us to see Avatar and then we stopped for pizza at the same place we ate on Saturday night. This time, though, we sat in a bright corner and told happy stories. There was Philly cheesesteak pizza, but I think my nephew preferred the plain ol' cheese pizza best. Later, we dropped him off at the bus station and waited in the parked car until we saw him board his bus. He looked so young and I felt so old. I was glad he had a couple of slices of pizza in a take-out box to keep him company for his bus ride back.

Tomorrow another week starts. There are science projects to finish, catalogs to proof, and hours of Haitian relief-efforts to watch. There are bedtimes to enforce and sheets to wash and nieces and nephews to confirm as friends on facebook.

I love the weekend. And pizza.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You Say I'm Bossy Like It's a Bad Thing

Max was asking me about America the other day, about our history. In my limited capacity (and relying heavily on a small library of blockbuster movies I've seen) I explained on a first-grade-appropriate level that we used to be part of England, but that we broke away because they were taking our money in taxes and taking away our rights. I told him that we had to fight a war against them to be free to do whatever we wanted; to make our own rules and choices.

"So that's what 'freedom' is?" he asked.

"Yep. It means we can choose to think and do and believe whatever we want and that's something very special about America."

"I don't get it," he said.

"What don't you get?"

"If America is free, then why are you always telling me what to do?"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Channeling Russell Edson

Last night my writing group did a miniature study of the poet Russell Edson. I have become a big fan of his over the years, taking a trip into the absurd and coming back with a refreshing new view. (A few favorites here, here, and here.) I also like dabbling in his style. This is what I wrote last night:

The Humbled Sun
The sun got a self-help book for Christmas and realized 
that it had spent eternities demanding to be the center of attention.
It stepped out of orbit 
and delivered a sincere letter of apology to each planet, 
even pouty Pluto with the low self-esteem.
The letters were all basically the same--
I'm sorry it was all about me. 
I'm sorry that you never got a chance to shine.
I'm sorry for believing that without me, you would fail.
The humbled sun was so proud of himself, 
and secretly satisfied when the universe collapsed in his wake.

If you're feeling mundane today, spend a few minutes channeling your inner Russell Edson. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Leaping, Less Looking

Oprah would be so proud of me. I had an "aha" moment in the car this morning so profound that I pulled over and wrote it out in my notebook. I'm not sure it was generally profound, more like personally profound. You probably figured it out years ago. I don't think I can explain it properly because so much is contextual and historical, but the gist of it is that I'm going to create a big, messy preschool painting for God to hang on His fridge.

See? I knew it would be hard to explain.

Okay, I'll take a stab at explaining it.

I'm going to live a big, vibrant, messy, wrinkly, colorful life filled with risks and mistakes and lessons learned the hard way. It's even going to have little pieces of dried macaroni glued to it to represent my love of carbohydrates.

I think I have held myself back for too long in a conscious effort to avoid making mistakes. And while I've been relatively successful at avoiding many big mistakes, I have closed the door on too many things (experiences, opportunities, even people) because there was a risk of failure. Or it seemed scary. Or unnecessary. Or irresponsible. Or illogical. Fill in the blank.

For 32 years, I have equated mistakes with failure, which is the biggest mistake of all. And speaking of failure, what's so bad about failing every now and then? Every painting needs some dark tones, and besides that, black is slimming.

The irony, of course, is that I've made plenty of mistakes along the way. So, the only things I really avoided were opportunities to have my mind and experience expanded. And the absolute last thing I want out of life is a narrow mind. The very thought of it makes me claustrophobic.

So that's what happened to me in the car this morning. In a vortex of heated seats, indie music, and winding country roads, I figured out that this canvas of my life is waiting not for my carefully crafted portrait, but for my big, sloppy, masterpiece. With dried macaroni.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Insert Vacation Photo Here

We returned home from vacation tonight, having spent the last several days in our coats, hats, gloves, and scarves in Florida. 2010 is starting out with a healthy dose of irony.

I left my camera in my purse the whole vacation and I left my purse in the hotel room the whole vacation. I resigned from my position as the family pack mule, leaving each morning with only what I could fit in my pockets. So, I have no photographic evidence that we ever set foot in Florida last week. And I'm totally okay with that.

When I get home from vacation, I have to start doing the laundry right away. Like, within the first 30 minutes. I don't know why, and please don't get under the impression that I am one of those neat freaks. I'm not. Maybe I like the white noise, the hum and tumble of my washer and dryer working together. Perhaps it brings back ancient memories of my time in the womb. My mom had five kids already when she was pregnant with me, so she was pretty much doing laundry non-stop until 1999 or so.

I remember sitting inside the dryer when I was a toddler (78% of you just cringed). I'd sit in the drum, with the door wide open while my mom folded laundry. My legs were folded like a pretzel and I'd swish left and right like a sideways swing.

Maybe if I'd played inside the old, abandoned refrigerator like my brother Lyle, I'd clean out my fridge more often. Lyle was such a fridge hog!

Sigh. Good times.

Anyway, I really love a vacation, but what I love even more is coming home. I'm tired of being transient and I'm even more tired of those stupid automated sinks in public bathrooms that turn on two seconds of water for every forty-seventh idiotic clap and wave of the hands. Please, sink, please may I have a little more water to wash off the soap? How about if I do Jazz Hands? Will Jazz Hands get me water? The automated sinks are on a power trip if I've ever seen one.

I know this didn't really tie together, but it's late. Insert tied-together ending here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resolved (Or, Count the Metaphors)

I haven't started 2010 yet. I'm waiting until the time is right, standing outside the wildly churning revolving door that will take me from 2009's sidewalk and drop me off in the lobby of 2010. The timing has to be right, you know, to avoid disaster--stumbles, falls, and face plants. And don't forget about stray shoelaces that can get caught. A stray shoelace can result in a severed leg or a sprained pinky.

Obviously, there's a lot to think about on the sidewalk of 2009.

I've been taking a break to become refreshed and renewed, which is how I was hoping to be when I arrive fashionably late in 2010. In fact, I applied my eye cream morning and night twice last week in preparation.

In addition to skin care, I've been reading others' resolutions and themes and trying to decide how it is that I'm going to approach this new year. There is definitely a list of things I want to accomplish, at least a dozen adjectives I'd like to acquire, and three or four verbs I'd like to master, but I haven't decided if I am at an all-you-can-resolve buffet, or dining on a tiny-but-meaningful plate at the Bistro of Becoming.

Something can happen, though, if you wait too long to start a new year. If I'd seen any of the Matrix movies, I could explain this better, but it's sort of a strange limbo world that you find yourself in and it begins to make you a little crazy. And by "a little crazy" I mean "eating empty calories to the point of sickness." It's possible that my time off left me nothing but neurotic. And chubby.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not all that pleased with Me, Version 2009. I was like a regrettable computer upgrade--lots of potential, but too many frustrating quirks. I have been planning to accomplish many incredible things as soon as.......what? As soon as I grew up? As if I wasn't allowed to be great until some artificial date arrived and made me valid. In the mean time, I successfully discovered 1001 ways to waste time, including number 678: The Real Housewives of Atlanta. 

I have to do better this year.

Tomorrow the year 2010 turns one week old, and my time on 2009's sidewalk will expire. (Did you know you can only delay starting a new year for one week? I learned that from watching Matrix trailers on YouTube, which is, incidentally, Way to Waste Time #843.) I'll have no choice but to bite my lip, hop into that salad spinner of a door and step foot into the new decade.

I've got serious butterflies. (And shoelaces tied in double-knots.) But I'm ready. I mean, if I can keep an entire year from starting, what can't I do?
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