Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tapped Out

Today I woke to a manageable To Do list, the first time that's happened in weeks, maybe months. The stickie on my desktop is pleasantly—rather than overwhelmingly—full.

So here I am with time to post and not a single story worth telling. Probably because all I've done for days on end is work.


Maybe I can find some trouble to get into today. : )

Monday, April 27, 2009

Walking on Air

Evan and I went for a walk along the river last night.

Let me repeat that: Evan and I went for a walk.

I stopped by his apartment before he left for work that morning, bringing a few goodies. When I asked if he'd like to hit the trail with me, he said he'd call after work if he felt like going.

Driving away, I laughed at myself for thinking he might call. And yet, he did. And we walked and talked and laughed for an hour. When we started, he said he hated walking. Along the way, he complained a few times but not much. When we got back to our cars, he asked if I'd like to go again on Monday (today).

Color me pink, as in tickled.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Entwined in Ivy

I planted cuttings of English ivy last week, hoping to train them to grow up a small white trellis between the posts of a second-story deck. The cuttings came from planter boxes around my sister's pool, where it thrives despite getting absolutely not one bit of nurturing or care. 

Yesterday I read a book about a woman named Ivy. In her childhood, she got very, very little nurturing. As an adult, she sometimes threw it away with both hands. And still, she thrived. Fair and Tender Ladies is a series of letters, all written by Ivy. Lee Smith
bends and shapes the story much the way I plan to train that ivy on the trellis: gently tying small pieces to a framework and letting story find its own shape.

Turns out that Ivy is a bit invasive. It's been a long time—years—since a book took over my head the way this one has. Strangely, I didn't like the first few chapters much. They're full of a child's misspellings and the odd cadence of the language of Appalachia, which is too close to the Ozarks for my own pure comfort, a first-generation flatlander, don't you know.

About a third of the way through, I fell into the book and haven't really found my way out yet. I think about Ivy and what happened to her the way I might think of things that happen to a real friend, worried over some, jubilant about others. The language evens out a little about the time Ivy moves off the mountain, but it no longer matters. What matters is the truth of the story: the longings that lead a woman up and down a mountain, the way you can become a bit player in your own life, how it feels to "walk in your body like a Queen."

Reading Ivy's letters is like remembering.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bad Breaks

My mother's foot is broken. She didn't exactly break her foot—no particular injury, anyway. A small bone just gave up and broke in two. She's in a walking cast, but the doctor restricted her activities for at least two weeks.

Her first question? "Can I cook at the shelter next week?"

Although she's been walking on a broken foot for days now, the only time she cried was when the doctor said, "No, I'm sorry. You can't."

Meatloaf Monday is a week away. I'm hoping we can find something Mom could do sitting down. I've never seen anything that made Mom as happy as making 110 pounds of meatloaf and stirring up vats of potatoes and baking cookies for people who don't usually get homemade cookies.

Last month, we went a little crazy with the cookies. 150 Rice Krispie-bar nests filled with pastel M&Ms; 10 dozen chocolate chip; 10 dozen peanut butter; 10 dozen oatmeal. We ended up leaving an full ice-cream bucket's worth home because we were afraid it seemed like too much. When we got to the church, people were scurrying around trying to figure out what to do because they didn't have enough cookies. 

"How many do you need?" I asked. 

At least 20 dozen, came the answer.

"Oh. Um...That's no problem. We have more than that in the car and even more at home. We'll go get the other bucket."

When we started unpacking the cookies, someone opened a box of Rice Krispie-bar nests. (We had filled shirt boxes with Easter grass and then nestled the nests into it.) "Oh, the kids would love these," the woman said. "But we can't put them out if there's not enough for every kid."

"How many do we need?" Mom asked, her voice and eyes filled with concern.

"At least 60."

"Then there's enough for each kid to get two." You could have saddled Mom's satisfaction and ridden it to town.

Mom not only kept up with every step of making dinner for 500 that day, she stayed to help serve the meal. She proudly set three cookies on each adult's plate.  The children are served in a separate room, but she heard reports of how excited they were about the nests.

Mom didn't stop beaming for two days. She smiled in her sleep, even. 

It would break her heart to miss a meatloaf Monday. That would be far worse than a broken foot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ira Glass vs Star Trek

Barbara and I went to a movie event for This American Life last night. I arrived first, saw an enormous line and made a beeline to the ticket window. Darn it. I should have bought tickets online.

Relieved not to see a "sold out" sign, I bought two tickets and started toward the end of the line. "Ma'am....Ma'am," the ticket clerk's speaker croaked. I turned. "You can go right in. That line is for Star Trek." It was 6:30. The Star Trek movie didn't open until midnight.

When Barb arrived, we sailed past people reading on Kindles, a young man knitting with hand-spun yarn, couples and other groups standing together texting or Tweeting distant friends and acquaintances.

By the time TAL started, our theatre was almost two-thirds full. It might seem that a radio show wouldn't translate well to a movie screen, but this is Ira Glass, a consummate storyteller. The theme was returning to the scene of a crime. Each segment was excellent (except for a strange, sad cartoon about a mouse in love with a cat's head) and the segments were arranged like a musical score. Mike Birbiglia told a simple story quite simply. Running from angry to funny to poignant, it still had Barb and me talking an hour after we got home. Starlee Kine did a piece on the Hoffman Institute, my least favorite piece of the night and still quite good. Dan Savage did a piece about Catholicism and his mother's death that left us all laughing through tears. There were other bits—four minutes from the TAL television show, sort of a trailer from Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, and that strange cartoon.

Collectively, they made up something well worth $20 and 90 minutes of your life. (Here in MO, it also offered the opportunity to sit in a room with a lot of other Democrats, something that doesn't happen all that often.)

The show will be rebroadcast in theaters on May 7.

On another front: I'm very happy to say that N accepted my invitation to lunch on Mother's Day weekend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kicking Fear's Ask

Last night I stopped by a Hallmark store to pick up wrapping paper for N's birthday present. It was 8:30pm or so and I'd been working since 5:30am. I was tired and at least a little grumpy, but basically fine.

Until I walked in the door of the Hallmark store.

One moment I was simply running a quick errand, and the next, I was sobbing, bobbing in a sea of manufactured sentiment, wrestling all-too-real fear and grief and the monkey on my back.

Scittering along with four or five things on my mind, I only half noticed the display at the front of the store. Still don't know what it included, except a large pink sign: Mother's Day, May 10.

Mother's Day.

This Mother's Day, I will share my daughter not with the idea of another mother, but the living, breathing, cake-baking, diet-Coke drinking, tooth-shape-sharing fact of her. And truly, we could not be more fortunate. Katie's birth mother is a lovely, loving woman—everything I could have hoped for for my daughter. Well, everything other than that she belong only to me.

(This, of course, is beyond ridiculous. No one's children belong to them. They belong only to themselves. It's a cliche, but it's true: our children are on loan to us, all of us, no matter how they came to be our children. They grow into their own lives, as they should. My children can no more abandon me as their mother than they can un-live the lives we've shared.)

I tried to keep walking, keep moving toward the bright pink gift bags on the wall, to walk away from my own ridiculous overreaction. Breathe, Jerri. Keep breathing. I wiped my eyes on the front of my shirt.

A clerk walked up and offered me a box of Kleenex (always with the Kleenex, no?). Like with the police officer that day, the story poured out of me. The essential me was up in the rafters somewhere, watching a much crazier version of myself tell a kind young woman things she did not need to hear five minutes before closing time, when all she wanted was to count the change drawer and go home.

I managed to pay for my purchases and thank the bewildered young woman for her kindness. The display lights were out before the door closed behind me.

Driving home, sobbing and berating myself for my own ridiculousness, I made up my mind. Rather than live in fear, I'm going to live in gratitude. Home again, I emailed N, inviting her to lunch on Mother's Day weekend. I hope she accepts. I'd like to take her someplace special, someplace where we can talk and laugh and hear and tell stories of our lives and our daughter. I'd like to thank her.

Given some light and air, I'm pretty sure gratitude will spit right in fear's eye. Maybe even kick his ask.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trusting Belief in Transcendent Reality

Do you ever see a new-ageish character on tv or in a movie and cringe? Some of the things I believe can seem pretty silly when they're exaggerated and presented in a certain light. But maybe that's true of faith in anything. Faith: trusting belief in transcendent reality.

Yesterday the Universe lifted its skirts and let me peek at the ankles of transcendent reality.

You all know I've been trying to "chill" regarding my tv project. After all the work and worry, once again I'd been thinking it might be dead in the water.

Then Katie asked about a present for N, and I suggested something my friend Catherine had shown me last time I was at her house. Katie loved the idea, so I sent Catherine an email, thanking her for helping me be a "cool mom." We exchanged a few quick catch-up emails because we hadn't talked in 4 or 5 weeks.

Five minutes after her last email, Catherine called. She had—just that moment—received an email from an LA producer, someone she contacted on my behalf back in January.

Catherine forwarded the email. I clicked in to open it and found the forwarded message sandwiched between TWO messages from The Man. Nearly three weeks without a word, and two messages show up AT THE SAME TIME as an alternative path.

Some people would call that a strange coincidence. For me, it's serious evidence of things unseen. But that's the thing about faith, isn't it? "Trusting belief" doesn't ask for evidence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And Both Are True

Katie's birth mother's birthday is this week. Katie's had a really nice card for quite a while but has struggled with whether to send a gift. She wants to, but doesn't know what it should be. Talking with her this afternoon, I came up with an idea she liked, something she could order on line. When the shipping turned out to be outrageous, I offered to pick one up and deliver it. Katie's 500 miles away. There's no reason for her to spend a fortune on shipping when I live 30 minutes from N's house.

I want to do this...I truly do. I am and always will be incredibly grateful to N. Not just the gratitude I've felt throughout Katie's life--now I'm also thankful for how kind and loving she is to our daughter. I can only begin to imagine what it will mean to N to receive a birthday gift from Katie for the first time. I'm glad to be a small part of that.

And yet, there are no words for how scary it is for this mother to make space for that mother.

It reminds me of my favorite Rilke quote about learning to love the questions themselves so that some far off day, you can live your way into the answers. I'm looking forward to the day when my insides match my outsides.

A Hand to Hold

Sunrise was incredible on the pond yesterday--bands of magenta and purple across the sky, brilliant green grass on the banks, every color in the rainbow reflected on the water. I sat down in my favorite red leather chair and soaked it in for several minutes.

The thing is, I don't remember the last time I noticed the sunrise. It's been months. Many. That's what led to yesterday's post about progress. You get numb to things, you know? Good, bad or indifferent, you just get used to things.

So, yes, it's certainly good that going out to eat alone no longer fills me with shame and fear. It's good that dead animal removal no longer freaks me out or requires a biohazard suit and a scalding shower after. But I'm not sure it's good that I no longer need others. If I were more in touch with how good it can be to share my life, I might do more to make that happen. I don't want to ignore glorious sunrises or give up on having a hand to hold through life.

I would really, really like a hand to hold. Even if I can throw away my own dead birds.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flying Solo

A bird ended up dead on my front porch this weekend. I got a plastic sack and a scrap board to use as a (disposable) dust pan. Took care of it, washed my hands, and went back to pulling dandelions in the yard. What would once have been unthinkable barely required a second thought.

This weekend I went alone to the movies and to church. A friend had planned to go with me to the movies but didn't feel well enough when the time came. I went anyway and enjoyed the show. Another thing I once could not—or would not—have done.

The first time I took the children out to dinner after B decamped was incredibly difficult and painful. My insides burned, my skin crawled, I shook, sure that everyone who saw us knew my husband had just left me for a younger, prettier, thinner woman. It was like I had REJECT stamped on my face. Sitting in that chair required an incredible act of will—the memory still feels sharp and hot this morning, 15 years later. Now I can go out to eat alone as easily as I can dispose of a dead bird.

Is that progress?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Farmer's Market

Despite the low gray clouds in the sky, it's sunny in my world this morning. I'm meeting a friend at the first Farmer's Market of the season. Not much I enjoy more than Saturday morning at the farmer's market—the colors and textures and smells make me pure-lee happy.

This morning I'm going to buy basil and rosemary plants for my herb garden and wallow in green and growing. A friend read yesterday's post and wrote to tell me to "Chill." He may have used the word more than once. More than twice, come to think of it.

He was right, and I can't think of a better place than the Farmer's Market.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Do the Right Thing

Two weeks ago or so, the production company agreed to go forward and asked me to take the next step. I did. I did everything they asked and more--made some valuable connections that surprised even me.

After reporting back to the production company with my results, I've heard nothing. Complete crickets. I find myself anxious and even a bit angry. I did what you asked. I did the right things. Why isn't that enough?

This could be my theme song, folks. When am I going to get over it? If not now, when?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Evan came over Tuesday and did a couple small jobs in my yard. He knew I wanted to get these things done and simply showed up to do them. He did a good job and cleaned up his tools afterward.

Hardly said a word. Just "Thought I'd get this done for you" and "Is this what you wanted?"

It is. It really, really is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Great News

A screenwriter friend called yesterday with the news that he's gotten a fantastic opportunity to write for a well-known television show. I could not be happier for him or more proud of him. He got this chance the old fashioned way: he earned it.

Some of this young man's friends try to believe his successes are merely luck. It is true he's gotten some big breaks, met the right people at the right time, capitalized on connections. But he has been ready. No one I know works harder than this young man. Despite challenges, despite set backs, despite bouts of near-crippling self doubt, he keeps his butt in the chair and his fingers on the keys. He researches, he analyzes, he writes. And then he does it all again.

When the door opened this time, he had spit polished his resume and his portfolio. He had watched dozens of episodes of the show in question: mapped them, dissected them, and figured them out. He had studied the software used by the production company—read the manual, even. He had given up coffee, for goodness sake.

And then he got lucky.

All blessings to you, my friend. May the road rise up to meet you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not in My Song

As I long suspected,
They believed that strange was a word for wrong
Well not in my song....

It's been many years since I've heard Barbra sing "The Woman in the Moon," but I remember every word. In Whole Foods this morning, I found myself singing them. Out loud.

I've spent the past 4 years feeling wrong. Here in the land of W lovers, in a place where pick-up trucks rule and processed food is king, I just don't fit. During the primary season, I was the only Obama supporter in any crowd. Even my family, Democrats all, thought I was WRONG and never hesitated to tell me so. I did not waver but spent a lot of energy not responding to comments that I was "stupid" to believe Obama could be as good a president as Hilary could be.

After 28 years in Minnesota, land of Lunds and Byerly's and Kowalski's, after visits to the lucky lands that are home to Trader Joe's, the grocery stores here are the very worst part of the move to Missouri. The. Very. Worst.

For example, at my local grocery store, there is no organic yogurt. None. Nothing but over-processed, over-sugared, fruit-on-the-bottom, whipped, can't-tell-it-started-out-as-food yogurt. One serving has more sugar than three candy bars, according to Men's Health. When I asked where to get the good stuff, lots of eyes were rolled. You know Jerri. Always has to be different.

Turns out the closest Whole Foods—the closest store that carries much of a selection of organic food period—is on the Kansas side of KC, more than 30 miles away. I don't go often, but this morning was one of those times. Surrounded by dreadlocked, backpack-wearing, organic-yogurt-eating, yoga-loving, Obama-voting souls, wandering the aisles felt like coming home.

Sure I'm strange, but that doesn't make me wrong.

Just in the wrong place.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wave the White Flag, already!

You all know how weird I am about my excess facial hair.

This morning I was, once again, on the hunt for two stray whiskers I've been picking at for days. With my glasses, in bright light and a 5X magnifying mirror, I could not see them, but I could feel them.

Must. Eradicate.

It took four or five minutes, but I got those suckers. True, I now have a small bloody hole on my chin, but the hairs are gone.

How many times, I wonder, have I turned a harmless nuisance into a bloody hole? We don't need to talk about the time I put the hose of Mom's Electrolux on my chin to suck out a pimple. Or the time I reused wax strips until the skin over my lips was bleeding. (The scabs were lovely in the vacation pics.) Actually, that was no worse than the time the esthetician burned my face with wax the afternoon before my first ever date.

You'd think those hairs would just give up already. Or maybe I'm the one who needs to give it a rest?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Micah Monday

I worked all day Saturday and Sunday, starting at 4:30 am each day, to get enough done that I could go make meatloaf for the homeless today. I'd love to claim some noble motive, but my determination to go isn't about what I give others. It's about what they give me.

Hanging out with my meatloaf-making buddies is like filling my tanks with high-test jet fuel. Their spirits and their Spirits lift me up. Their laughter carries me for days. These people live out the advice of St. Francis: Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

They use very few words.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

In a commercial promoting tourisim in Michigan, of all things, a syrupy male voice says something about how easy it is to be yourself with people you don't know.

The simple truth of that has stayed with me for days now. With family and friends, I round off my edges to fit the Jerri-sized slot they hold for me. But with strangers, it's easier to be my messy, sloppy, imperfect self. I can say what I truly think or feel. I can dance and sing out loud without embarrassing anyone. I can laugh too much, too loud, too long.

I miss traveling. I miss the woman I was on the road--the one who jumped into glacial lakes and danced on tabletops, the one who sat on rocks in rivers and drank champagne on an Oregon beach with a strange man and his late wife's ashes. The one who lived out loud.

Maybe I should look for her in Michigan.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

One Word

Before dinner on Thursday night, I asked everyone to think of one word for their handprint for diabetes. Dad and Uncle Bill looked mildly confused. "What word?" Dad asked. "What's it supposed to mean?"

I explained, but neither Dad nor Bill seemed to fully understand. Mom said, "Don't worry about it. We'll come up with something for them."

A few minutes later, I was making chocolate pie when Dad called out, "Jerri, come here! I know my word!"

When I got to his side, he whispered from behind his hand, "Can it be a word and a symbol?" When I nodded, he whispered, "Your mom has diabetes. She's my word."

Friday, April 03, 2009

One Touch

The fam gathered at Mom and Dad's last night to lend me a hand.

One Touch, a manufacturer of blood sugar monitors, has an interesting program going on. You write a word on your hand, one that describes how diabetes touches your life. Then you take a picture and upload it to In return, they donate $5 to diabetes-related charities.

After dinner we got out face-painting crayons and glitter and buttons and got busy. It was really fun. Lots of laughter and silliness, as you can see

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Good Works

On Monday, Walgreens announced an amazing program. For the rest of 2009, they're offering free visits to their Take Care Clinics for unemployed or uninsured people.


After March 31, if you lose your job, you and your spouse and your children can go to a Take Care Clinic between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm, and pay nothing for the visit. Their lab service, Quest Diagnostics, will provide free tests for strep and UTIs.

To qualify, you need an unemployment check stub or a federal or state unemployment determination letter. That's it.

Walgreens is gambling that the people who use the free services will tell others about the clinics--others who have insurance or can pay the $59 a visit usually costs. I'm guessing they're also banking that the buzz about the program will generate interest in the clinics and support for their stores.

It worked. I need some eyeliner and hand soap, and I'm going to Walgreens to get them. I don't even know where the closest Walgreens is, but today I'm going to find it.

Hal Rosenbluth, chairman of the Take Care Clinics division of Walgreens, says this is an experiment. They have no idea what the program is going to cost or how it might impact their business in other ways.

Please, if you get the chance, shop at a Walgreens. And tell the store manager you're there to support their Take Care program. I'd bet my last Advil they're tracking comments on the program. Let's convince them that good works.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Pants on Fire

I am a liar.

I lie to my daughter.

Every day.

She calls to tell me her birth father covered her car with balloons on her birthday, and I say, "That's really funny." and "How nice of him."

She calls to say she's meeting her birth father's family, and I say, "Wonderful, Honey. I'm excited for you."

She calls to say her birth mother's parents are going to be in town and want to have lunch but she has class, and I say, "See if they're staying overnight. Maybe you could have breakfast the next morning."

When she calls to say it worked out for breakfast, I say, "Great! I'm so glad."

These are the things I want to think. They are NOT the things I DO think.

When she tells me her birth father said he's going to pick up his kid from school, I think, "No, you're not, buddy. You're going to pick up MY kid from school."

Here's what saves me: at 54, I don't think as fast as I once did. It's like having my own little 7-second delay. By the time I organize my thoughts to speak, reason sets in.

Every day, I lie.

Every day, I pray for the grace to keep on lying until I believe what I'm saying.