Monday, March 31, 2008

Having coffee the other day with my parents, I had a meltdown.

CNN ran the story of a young, middle-class family. Two kids. Two working parents. Lovely home. Then the husband and wife lost their jobs. Difficulties arose. The man walked out, leaving the woman alone with an adjustable rate mortgage that had just hit $2500/month and no income. No health coverage. She couldn't afford a minimum-wage job because it wouldn't even cover day care for the kids.

Her mother rented out her home and moved in to help with expenses. They couldn't get food stamps because she owns a home. So now, the guy's off starting his life over, making no contribution at all, and the woman is alone, struggling to keep the house and feed her kids and find a real job.

As I watched and listened, a stranger took over my body. She breathed hard and fast. She talked loud and didn't care how she sounded.

We, the stranger and I, turned to my dad and said, "This is why, Dad. This is why it matters that Bill Clinton screws around."

Dad's a diehard Clinton democrat. Not a fan of infidelity, but he doesn't think Bill's private life is relevant. And he doesn't understand why I don't admire Hilary for staying with him.

Using my voice, the stranger told Dad that when the leaders of a nation have bad morals, it's easier for the average person to have bad morals. It's easier for men to walk out on their families, easier for them to turn their backs on the women they promised to love, honor and cherish.

We raged. We raged. We raged about this unknown guy who left his wife holding the bag holding their lives and their futures and the trash he no longer carries to the curb on Saturday mornings.

I finally had to go to the salon. Halfway there, the stranger drifted through the driver's side vent and floated over to the walking trails in Burr Oak Woods, where she stubbed her toes kicking stones into trees.

Later that afternoon, I apologized to Dad for getting so carried away, and then spent two hours wondering where in the
world the rage came from. All this time, I've never spoken so out of turn. I thought...I really thought I'd turned it loose long ago.

No idea what to do with my the rest of my life. I think I mostly got married at 24 because it answered that question. I would be a wife. I would be a mother. I would be my husband's partner and we would build a life.

I walked, heel-toe, heel-toe, on that path for 16 years, until the day I was no longer a wife. For the next 14 years, I hauled ass down the path of being a mother. I'm still a mother, but one whose children no longer need daily care. A writer, sort of, but not really. A middle-aged woman who still has trouble speaking up for herself. One who once had a float in the parade and now sits on the curb, watching the bands march by.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Great Hair Affair

Forget the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I want to know how many grey-haired, middle-age women can balance on the edge of a razor. Today. How many of us—today—stretched and strained our spreading bodies to draw razors across our skin?

I shaved my legs this morning. I can't rightly remember how long it's been. I do know that shaving cream has squatted on my mental grocery list for the past month. I do know I meant to do it before I went to Minnesota 10 days ago. I do know that when a friend patted my leg the other day, fur compressing beneath the squashy black pile of my pants gave me shivers.

The shaving cream's a clue. When the hair is short, still whiskery, shower gel is enough lubricant for the job. It's only when the hair goes soft that shaving cream's required.

I am the only person for whom I shave my legs these days, and that hasn't been enough reason to bother. For a long time.

I plucked the whiskers from my chin before stepping into the shower for the shaving operation. Upon hearing the unmistakable thwip that accompanies a successful tweeze, I thought, "Where's James Lipton when you need him? That's "a sound or noise that I love." That thwip, is so different from the thisp of a hair escaping my grasp. Thwip is the sound of victory! Thwip is the sound of completion!

When the victories of your life are small, you must celebrate them with enthusiasm. And exclamation points.

Seeing mine requires 200x reading glasses and a 5x magnifying mirror.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Here, There, and Everywhere

Got back from Minneapolis late yesterday afternoon. Everything at home is exactly as I left it.

Embroidery thread still covers the little table beside the red leather chair from which I appliqued hearts and flowers onto Katie's quilt.

My bathroom counter are still covered with jars and bottles and bits and pieces of things I've been too frenzied to put away.

The refrigerator still needs to be cleaned out. Desperately.

When I lived in MN, I thought of going to MO as going "home." After all, my folks live here. It's the state where I was born. It's where I grew up (after a fashion).

After moving to MO, I began to refer to MN as "home." "I'm going home next week" meant returning to Minnesota. "It's cold at home today," indicated an arctic front 500 miles from my house.

A lot of things in Minneapolis are exactly as I left them. Our old house still squats squarely on the same suburban lot. The Mississippi River still shapes the state. Traffic is still snarled for hours each day.

A lot of things have changed. The Guthrie Theatre gathered its kit and flounced away from The Walker Art Gallery. No longer anyone's dependent, The Guthrie now occupies a magnificent blue building with three auditoriums, elegant restaurants, cocktail lounges, and stunning views of the river.

The bridge that once carried 35W over the river is history. Literally. Millions watched its demise on CNN last summer. Now thousands of drones buzz furiously, day and night, night and day, creating structure from chaos.

Speaking of chaos, all the news anchors have changed. Not a single familiar face, not one familiar voice. Cosmic music played, chairs shuffled, and the people I knew moved on to bigger markets...or smaller markets...or other lives.

Moving to another life is both easier and harder than it seems at first. Navigating the changes you see is the easy part. Accepting the ones that happen while you're not looking is much, much harder.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I am, at this very moment, sitting in a Caribou Coffee place, sipping a latte and catching up on the blog world. 6 blocks away, my darling daughter is curled around her doggie, sleeping deeply.

Within hours, I'll be sharing lunch and conversation with my best friend in the world.

All's right with the world.

Sort of.

Katie and I had dinner last night with her boyfriend and his mother. Before we went, I gave her The Cookbook, thinking she'd like to show Craig's mother. She opened it, looked at every page, and bounced up to brush her teeth and get ready to go. No deep emotion. A quick hug. One "I love it, Mom." One "Thank you."

No surprise. Seems she knew I was making it. "Well," she said. "I had asked for recipes. You asked me to send pictures. I made the connection."

No surprise. "It's what you would do, Mom."

So I float between disappointment that it wasn't a surprise and an odd kind of satisfaction that she knows me as well as I know her.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Deepest Desire

Finished the last of Katie's presents late last night. The final touch was a t-shirt. On the front it says: For her 21st Birthday, Katie's Mama gave to her..... On the back is a list of the 21 presents, written in the rhythm of "12 Days of Christmas."

I shipped the first week's worth of presents last week, each gift with a numbered tag.. She calls before opening the day's present and howls with laughter each time. "You're so weird, Mom," "Where did you get that?" "That's so funny," she says.

Each present is closely tied to her life in some way. They're the essence of Katie-ness. So far, the things she's opened have been inconsequential, to say the least. Still, she wakes up early and bounces out of bed to open the day's installment in this parade of silliness. A bottle of Ranch Dressing. A package of Ramen noodles. A plastic pony that swells when you put it in water so you can "Grow a Pony." A t-shirt bearing her favorite joke.

I took the cookbook pages to a copy center to see about getting them laminated and bound. The young woman working the counter had tri-colored hair, a large tongue stud, and a pierced eyebrow. Not someone you'd immediately peg as sentimental. She had tears in her eyes as she flipped through the pages. "I can't imagine my mom doing this," she said.

That's been the most common comment. The main reaction is a sad kind of envy. Not for the recipes, surely, or even the pictures.

My theory is that these projects speak to a deep desire to be seen. I know her favorite snack foods...the joke she never gets tired of...her favorite movie from childhood. I still have the tag she wore to her first day of kindergarten, some of her art projects, and notes she wrote when she was little. I see her. Who she is, is important to me. That's what people respond to, what puts tears in their eyes.

My son, the tough guy, came by last night. I showed him a few pages and asked if he'd be interested in having his own book. He looked at the floor. "Yeah. I'd like to have the recipes. And maybe someday my wife would like having the pictures," he said. Before he left half an hour later, he'd mentioned at least a dozen recipes he wanted included in his book and twice that many pictures he'd like to have in there. Before he got out the door, he reminded me twice that his birthday's coming up in May. (Like I could forget--it's the same day as mine.)

We all need to be seen. Even tough guys.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Goose Poo

Islands of goose poo floating on the pond today. 

Isn't that just the way? Nothing, not even my beloved pond, is all one thing or the other. The water captures all—sky and clouds and trees. And poo. 

The geese are picturesque but they poo. Lots.

In recent weeks, every time a goose lands on the pond, haters set off some sort of device that sounds like bottle rockets. Geese scatter. My doggie shivers in the closet. 

No ganders float here today, only poo.

The presence of the geese is not all good, to be sure. Neither is the absence.

The middle way begs to be discovered.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Good News/Bad News

Yesterday's call with the acquisitions editor went well. We're moving to the next step, and I'm quite hopeful this will result in a contract and book.

When it comes to book publishing and many other things in life, I can find and do "the next right thing" without too much struggle. When it comes to my sister and business partner, I remain completely adrift. 

Yesterday I spoke up about an issue, quietly and politely. She accused me of "making a scene." Honestly and objectively, I can report that I was speaking quietly and politely. She was yelling and crying. But in her eyes, I was the one making a scene. 

She Who Must Be Obeyed.

That's the middle child in me talking. I know this. A good deal of how much I resent her attitude is born right there. In the middle. When we were young, she dictated how things would be from the lofty perch of the first born. I had no way to resist the power of her 17 additional months on the planet.

Those 17 months ate at my soul like battery acid eats cotton fabric—holes and splotches worn bare and raggy at the edges.

Now we're in our 50s and no longer see being older as a permanent CrackerJack prize. I know I see today's dramas through the lens of those early years. So I make allowances. I doubt my own reactions. I take steps back and try, try, try to see her side of things. 

But the facts are the facts, and they are not pretty. From either direction.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Answer Is...

This morning started out with yet another inexplicable encounter with my sister. I do not understand her. I do not understand my reactions to her. I do not understand.

On a lighter note, I've got a conference call scheduled with an acquisitions editor today for discussion of a book I proposed. I really, really want to do this one, so please keep me in your thoughts.  2:30 CDT, in case you have a moment.

Wandering the dark hallways of my psyche this morning, I decided to pull two tarot cards from my Motherpeace deck. Drew the Son of Wands (in other decks, this is called the Knight of Wands) and the 6 of Discs. The Son of Wands seems to foretell an adventure or change and the 6 of Discs seems to portend success.

Doesn't that sound lovely?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh, the Shame

At Mom's house on Sunday afternoon, quilting away on Katie's birthday quilt. Suddenly realize I'm singing this highly inappropriate little ditty*.  to myself.

Yeah. Thanks a lot, Michelle.

*Truly, horribly, hilariously inappropriate. Do not follow the link if you're easily offended. As Michelle says, "I'm begging you."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kyrie Eleison

Helped my niece work on a poem yesterday. Trying to come up with a title, an old song by the Association came to mind, "Requiem for the Masses." A little Google action and I had video of The Association performing it.  The video is a hilarious blast from the past.

It's been 35 years since I last heard that song, but I sang every word with the boys. Every word.

Where do those words live in my head? And why are they taking up space that could be better used for recalling why I went downstairs or what I was working on before the phone rang. Or, best of all, it could be used for maintaining the tiniest appearance of intelligence when my sister is in the room.

Mom couldn't get on the internet this morning. Both Safari and Explorer reported they could not connect with the servers. My sister reset the modem and fussed around with things while I watched silently. I did quietly point out that the problem had to be with Mom's computer rather than the modem or router because I could get on through her wifi. Deb rolled her eyes and I shut up. Finally, she left.

I sat down at the computer, checked the settings and discovered the IP address had disappeared somehow. I plugged it and the DNS server numbers back in and restarted. Mom was back in business. 

Simple Simon. Easy Peasy. Then why the hell couldn't I do it with Deb in the room? Seriously, she walks in and my brain goes into sleep mode. I live down to her expectations of me, over and over and over again.

Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lord, Grant Me Serenity, part 2

Five or six months ago I wrote a post about living in the whirlwind of Evan's demands titled "Lord, Grant Me the Serenity."

Those words are now the search that most frequently brings visitors to my blog. Strangely, my little blog always seems to show up within the top ten out of hundreds of thousands of results for those words.

There are so many, many people searching for serenity. Every day. I wish I had something better to offer than a description of me watching Evan spin.

Let's see if this helps:

Dear Searcher,

Stop searching and let it find you. Serenity lies in surrender and in acceptance.

It lives in nature. It lives in music. It lives in service to others, the appreciation of beauty and gratitude. Boy howdy, it lives there big time.

It lives inside of you, in the still small voice that is God. While we humans are busy searching and fretting, God is whispering, "I am here. Rest in me." We can't hear that voice unless we get quiet and listen.

I know this but do not always remember in times of stress. This reminder is as much for myself as for you, dear searcher.

Take a deep breath and look inside. That's where it lives. Well, there and in the connection between us all. We're all trying to find our way in the dark and we're all called to be lights for one another. I hope this brightens your path, even just a little. I hope it helps to know that, as you search, others are searching, too. And that there is in this world, at least one person who sees your struggle and wishes you peace.

Deep, abiding peace to you.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Waltzing Down Memory Lane

If you visit over at Mama N Me, you know I'm making a cookbook/scrapbook thing for Katie, one of 21 presents for her 21st birthday.

Opened my first ever Photoshop file about 10 days ago now. Can't tell you how much I love playing with it. SO much. I love it SO much.

Anyway, here's a page that's nearly finished. If any Photoshop experts out there have ideas and suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Helping Hands

Please check out Michelle O'Neil's blog today for a chance to make a difference in this world.

Full Soul Ahead

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Parenting Struggle

My son finally got a job. That is the very good news. For almost two months, he had no job, no money, and no willingness to look for a job. Thank the Good Lord, the trust pays his rent and car payment, insurance and cell phone bill. The only things he needs to pay for are gasoline, electricity for his apartment, and food and entertainment. I've been covering for him, but at 25, he needs to get it together.

So, he started a job on Monday. Won't get paid until next Friday. Last night he came over about 10:00 pm, carrying on because he was hungry and had nothing. Nothing. NOTHING. I know he wanted me to give him money. I know that was the goal of his carrying on. I know this because on Wednesday I bought him $150 worth of groceries at Costco. When I asked how he could be hungry with all those groceries in his house, he said the food was all gone. He had nothing in his cabinets.

"Really?" I asked. "You ate $150 worth of food in 4 days?"

"You don't understand, Mom. I'm a guy. A 25-year-old guy. I have to eat."

I fixed him a hot ham and cheese sandwich and promised to buy milk and sundries in the morning. I did not give him any money.

I woke up this morning, a list of the food I bought on Wednesday running through my head. 24 cartons of yogurt, a huge loaf of bread, two giant jars of peanut butter, a vat of jelly, a package of 24 chicken breasts, a two pound bag of frozen veggies....

There's no way he's hungry. No way he ate all that food between Wednesday and Saturday. No way I can break down and give him cash. I know what he wants, and it's not milk and eggs.

I honestly don't know which of us is struggling more. I fall into cycles of worry and fretting. Make ruts in my brain trying to be sure he can't really be hungry. Argue silently, convincing him (and myself) I'm right not to give him cash.

Can he do better? Will he ever learn to manage money? Is my "necessities only" stance anything more than torture for us both? He wants cigarettes. He wants beer or other liquor. By refusing to give him money, am I merely creating a situation where he will blow every penny he gets next Friday on the very things I refuse to buy?

But if I do give him money, am I making it easy for him to continue being irresponsible? Guaranteeing this will continue?

I have no answers.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Still Here

Crazy busy around here this week. Still noticing beauty. Still taking its pictures. Also working way too many hours a day and working on projects for Katie's birthday.

If you like baking bread or want to try it, stop by Mama 'N Me. We're baking Dilly Bread over there.

So good on a meatloaf sandwich it could make the baby Jesus cry.

It really is a lot to try to get done, but Mom's having such a good time with the new blog that I can't help loving it. She puts a lot of thought into what pictures we should take and how to show things. You've just got to love a 74-year-old woman who embraces technology and new ideas the way my mom does.

More soon.