Today, there are two posts for one reason: I couldn’t abide having the Hummel picture at the top of my blog.

I would rather have a weed.

my sworn enemy

Like I say in the Hummel blog, Some People (I’m waving my arms like crazy here!) just don’t appreciate Hummels.

The pictured weed was the first to poke its unwelcome little head up out of my “grass,” or more precisely, the area which in most people’s yards is devoted to an admirable green swath of lovingly-tended festuca glauca or ovina, poa pratensis, you know: Grass.

Our visitors are greeted by, yep, weeds.  Or me, stooped over, pulling the weeds. It’s my annual, season-spanning, take-no-prisoners battle: Me, my Trusty Trowel, and the Weeds.

Can you guess who’s winning?

Years ago, my friend Genine owned an organic gardening shop, the very beautiful, much missed Heron Hill. One fine day, I walked in and asked her for a recommendation for an organic weed killer, She reached under her counter and pulled out… a trowel. It’s still my beloved Trusty Trowel.

Maybe in the intervening years, Science has invented a magic chemical that effectively kills weeds but not grass without devastating the groundwater supply and the planet’s inhabitants. Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. My neighbor Mark who composts and grows gorgeous grapes which he is learning to turn into delicious wine uses chemicals. In fact, Mark is fairly amused by my sweaty, foul-tempered, Sisyphean efforts.

“They have chemicals for that, Suzanne.”

<sigh>

When we downsize, when Paul and I are finally living in a home with no yard, no “grass” of any kind, will I miss these hours spent dirty and sore, under the relentless sun, engaged in my annual Stoop-Dig-Pull! ritual?

Ask me as I am lovingly hanging my retired Trusty Trowel on my low-maintenance wall.


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I admit it. I like the 2 local Starbucks I frequent.

Hyperion: a robust longing

I wish I lived near my beloved Hyperion.

But Dorothy,

we’re not in Kansas– that is to say Fredericksburg– anymore.


One of my Starbucks is where I meet biweekly (bimonthly?) with my girls. In warm weather, I ride my bike there; in cold weather, I try to justify driving by combining the trip with bike-unfriendly errands. My own carbon/guilt-offset, I suppose.

We four talk non-stop for 2 hours and could easily go on for another blur of time, but eventually guilt and life tug us away from this sustaining pause. Two weeks later, we reunite over all-things-considered coffee, tea and oatmeal. I’m the one asking for a splash of barista-controlled soy milk on my oatmeal.

My other Starbucks is within walking distance of my house. It shares a parking lot with my regular grocery store, so I am within its lure rather too often.

But I don’t fetishize coffee as much as Some Folks I know. I’m pretty sure my sweetie would voluntarily give up wine and chocolate before anyone could pry the grande coffee cup out of his jittery hands. No Frackin’ Way, for me. But to each her/his own, of course. I save my coffee-house haunts for socializing.

And, recession/unemployment has ended the occasional spontaneous splurge on a cup of take-out joe.

Except last Tuesday.

Oh man, I was dragging.

It was almost 3:00, and I had just enough time before I was due to meet Sam at school to grab a tall soy latte. Yeah, I could have made a bracing cup of tea at home for virtually nothing, but I know the economy needs a boost as much as I needed one that afternoon. And no!—and with increasing self-recrimination– I cannot make my own cup of coffee at home.

Continuing the list, three things I can’t do:

  • Grill
  • Cut the grass
  • Make coffee

I’m not sure if all that twisting counts as my Constitutionally Guaranteed Rationalization for today or for last Tuesday. I do know that if I had bowed to guilt and not enjoyed a three dollar and change cup of energizing comfort that day, I would not have met Ishmael.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

Ishmael, really?” At Starbucks? Isn’t that just a little too coincidental? Frankly, I have no idea what the guy’s name was, but being of a literary bent, I’m going with Ishmael.

When you order a “specialty coffee” such as a tall soy latte, you have that couple of minutes of standing around waiting for your order.

Have you ever watched the people as they try to fill that time?

If you come in with a friend, you probably chat. If you’re there solo, however, what do you do? Look at the latest CD release? Stare at the holiday sale items? Monitor the baristas to ensure they make the coffees in the correct order? Because don’t you hate it when someone who ordered after you gets their coffee first?

Civilization depends on strict adherence to this most basic social entitlement:

First come, first served.

Last Tuesday, I was solo.

During my time in the cash register area, I was vaguely aware of a man speaking at a somewhat louder volume than social convention usually dictates, but in the midst of paying the pretty cashier whose perfect red lipstick always fascinates me, I didn’t make any further calculation. If I had, I probably would have headed for the condiments bar instead of the order-up area.

Ishmael’s volume wasn’t the only thing registering as out of step.

As I rounded the counter to wait for my coffee, I became aware of the body language of the person receiving Ishmael’s gush of observations. It was that awkward posture of someone trying, it appeared politely, to get out of the crosshairs. But this wasn’t an airplane. He wasn’t trapped until landing. So nodding and smiling indulgently, he stowed his computer and perhaps whatever expectations he had for an industrious afternoon, and left, taking my social buffer with him. Too fast for any reaction, Ishmael sidled right up to me with actually a pretty witty remark about the changing weather.

Quick, think…

What had I just heard on NPR? Ted.com? Oprah? about our most basic desire being the need to feel validated.

So I took a deep breath, looked Ishmael square in the eyes, and listened.

I didn’t look at my watch or stammer about really needing to pick up my kid or suggest that I was inwardly squirming with impatience. I just listened while Ishmael told me about his devastating car accident and needing life-saving surgery which has left him bankrupt and unable to work.

But grateful for his life.

A pause came, and it didn’t even take nearly as long as if I had tried to manufacture one. I smiled and said I was really sorry that life had been so difficult recently. And then Ishmael gave me a gift, better even than getting carded as a 48-year-old woman. He told me I was radiant.

Thanks, Ishmael. I’m not really, but at that moment, I did see a ray of hope.


[Dedicated with love–and long-windedness– to Vicky, Toni & Janet.]

Finally: Welcome!

03/24/2010

Okay, I’m playing the cute-card.

But wouldn’t you start with this, too?

morning devotion

Pattern Seeker

03/24/2010

PLEASE NOTE: THE IMAGE ORIGINALLY IN THIS POST HAS BEEN REMOVED DUE TO COPYRIGHT ISSUES.

Recently, I quoted David Byrne’s line “How did I get here?”

This morning during the drive to school, Sam and I heard the Talking Heads song (Once in a Lifetime) from which that lyric comes. It felt better than coincidence; it felt like cosmic validation. Thanks, SiriusXM radio station “1st Wave.”

Recently, Sam and I have been talking a lot about a Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower, because, well, it’s a kick-ass song that Sam is referencing in one of his own songs, and also because of its importance to a very climactic moment in our favorite show, Battlestar Galactica.

There must be someway out of here…

I can’t get no relief.

If you haven’t watched BSG yet, lucky you! You have the greatest viewing experience of your life ahead of you. Go! right now, and put your name on the hold list at your local library for the season 1 DVDs. Start with the mini-series. You can thank me later.

But we have plenty of time before you are lost to that worthy pursuit. The waiting list will be months long. In the meantime, a few thoughts on driving, themes and portents.

As I have said before, I am a pattern seeker. The books of JRR Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander; the many incarnations of Star Trek and the original Star Wars movies. The Journey of the Hero, as explained and popularized by Joseph Campbell—all our favorites fit the pattern. Ever since Donna brought them into my life, these have formed the bedrock of my worldview.  At the time, I just thought we loved a ripping yarn. It’s clear to me now that what we responded to were classic hero stories.

Okay, so what’s my point?

My family is at a crossroad. Sam will be leaving for school so soon; Paul and I want more meaning in our lives and less stuff getting in the way. More meaning and less baggage.

And then last night I had a vivid dream.

I was buckled into the backseat behind the driver’s seat of our Jeep Cherokee. But I was the driver.  (And it’s a stick shift! Try that from the backseat.)  I was distraught, trying to figure out how to get control of the car. I looked down at my right wrist, and the veins beneath my skin were writhing and pulsating. I knew I was having a heart attack. I managed (?) to get to my former Virginia neighbor, Sandy, who was wonderful as ever and who calmed me down.  Then I woke up.

Okay, it’s no hero’s journey. But I do see the pattern. Almost always, the hero has to make a sacrifice before s/he reaches the goal. And there is also, almost always, a circle of true of friends.

Personal relevance:

  • Sacrifice? Check.
  • Circle of true friends? Oh boy, check.

Which brings me to All Along the Watchtower, the Dylan song. I know I am searching for a way out of our current difficulties. Unemployment cloaked in our gray Chicago winter has been pretty grim. I am selling off stuff, paring down, preparing us for the next phase: leaner, lighter, refocused. That’s all very deliberate and necessary, but here’s what I’m wondering.

If some of the sacrifice (of the excess stuff if not the job) is welcome and the friends of blood and time are in place, what’s the big deal? Honestly, Paul and I are moving toward what we want. It’s just happening a little sooner than we expected.

So let us not talk falsely now,

The hour is getting late.


The most appropriate music cue here comes courtesy of Sydney: This Too Shall Pass by OK Go http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJKythlXAIY The winter of our discontent shall be tempered with a bit of whimsy. Thanks, Syd.

Same as it ever was.

Geek Heroes

03/22/2010

I was thinking that my last couple of postings have been awfully somber. So today, something a bit lighter in tone and spirit. Lighter and springier, even.


I am a sucker for a hero walk.


walking the walk

You know, what film-makers call it when several of the main characters in an action movie walk abreast (actually swagger abreast) in slow motion to a pounding anthem-rock song. Think Armageddon or Pirates of the Caribbean or Big Band Theory.Yes, BBT (see season 3 episode “The Pirate Solution”). 

Geek swagger absolutely slays me.

I love geeks. Some of my favorite people are full-on geeks (you know who you are). What makes someone a geek? And is this one of those “Senator, I know it when I see it” kind of questions? Maybe one person’s geek is another person’s nerd. Maybe defining the idea of “geek” reaffirms the essential dodgeballness of geeks—for their own safety, they’re required to be moving targets.

Here’s what I look for:

  • Piercing intelligence tinged with progressive cynicism
  • Genre allegiance
  • Technological adeptness
  • Glasses

Screens are a crucial accessory. We are raising a generation of kids who love screen-time with pure monogamous devotion. Even reading science fiction novels can be accomplished via a screen now. No need for geeks even to venture outside to a library.

Sam’s college search has us racking up some pretty significant screen time, looking at a lot of websites. If you’ve never poked around on the Princeton Review’s website (http://www.princetonreview.com), you’ve missed some pretty hilarious reading. They have lots of helpful search lists and rankings of colleges and universities vamped up with some amusing headings:

  • Dorms like palaces v. Dorms like dungeons
  • Reefer madness v. Don’t inhale
  • Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, clove-smoking vegetarians v. Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution

[You can bet that last category is our favorite and actually incredibly helpful in directing you toward schools with a liberal leaning—a non-negotiable point for Sam.]

I would say that our Self Contained Unit has some definite geek qualities. He’s got the first three on my above checklist nailed. Myopia may unfortunately come later, certainly likely will come with enough screen time.

But one way he differs from geekdom in general is his passion for being outdoors. He was the kid building forts near the creek, tromping through the neighbors’ yards on “quests” and always lobbying for the nature-oriented family vacations featuring plenty of creeks and rocks and quests.

It reminds me of a piece I heard on NPR one time (sorry Syd). The contributor, waxing nostalgic of course, listed his three requirements for a healthy childhood: a bike, a library card and piano lessons. And the bike, not the mom-taxi, was the transportation to the other two activities. I think we’re pretty far away from this idyllic past. Quel domage. What a shame.

How will Sam do in college with the full-on geeks and precious little time for outdoor quests? My guess is that my iconoclast will manage his own version of going geek at college quite nimbly.

Cue the hero walk music. Which he will write.


Pull the Thread

03/17/2010

One of the things I am sorting through with writing this blog is why I have accumulated so much stuff.

I am working very hard to make this firmly a past-tense confession: why I have accumulated so much stuff. This is the very definition of process not product. In some ways, I feel like I am developing a new 12 step program, maybe “Acquirer’s Anonymous.”

  • Step 1: Cut up American Express cards
  • Step 12: Rent a room; furnish with mattress

A couple of steps are missing there, aren’t they? Based on this progression, I’m at about Step #2.

But there are days when that Step 12 extreme lifestyle is incredibly appealing.

Twenty-five years ago, Paul and I came to our joint-checking-account status with 2 English-majors’ weight in books and at least 4 metal filing cabinets, one of which was an olive-green, WWII vintage, government-surplus monster. That’s the one that, in our move to Eugene, Oregon, both sliced open Paul’s ring finger and made our sorely used friend Milt remark,

“You guys have really heavy stuff to move.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t speaking metaphorically.

So what are Steps 2-11 in my “Acquirer’s Anonymous” Program? Roughly speaking, I think Steps 2-6 are things like, “Sell your stuff” and “Donate your stuff” and “Recycle your stuff.” (Okay, we’re not inventing the wheel here.) But I think it gets much more interesting around Step 7.

What do I imagine happens then? I think at that point, you have to pull the thread, as in The Thread, the one that connects your whole tapestry. Or to quote David Byrne, you have to ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

And, course, you have to ask, “Now what do I do?”

There’s a fascinating blog called Guy Named Dave (www.guynameddave.com) He gained some notoriety back in 2008 when his project was mentioned in an article in Time magazine (June 16, 2008). He wants to reduce his entire inventory of worldly possessions to 100 things. He calls it “The 100 Thing Challenge.”

Keep in mind, Dave’s not a radical, fringe, extremist guy. No really! He’s a married dad of three daughters. Some of Dave’s downsizing motivations were similar to mine. Exhaustion with the oppressive excess of it all; recognition that we’ve been trying to purchase our way to a vision of who we’d like to be but aren’t; desire to find true not packaged happiness.

Dave also incorporates his Christian sensibilities into his experiment. While Dave and I would probably quibble on the specifics, I whole-heartedly agree that all this stuff is weighing down our spirits as much as our shelves.

So what will it be:

Selves or Shelves

Which do you want to preserve?

Because I’m really starting to think it can’t be both.

[Full Disclosure: the next few paragraphs definitely relate to my downsizing efforts but were written in mid-February. I stand by their relevance, unfortunately, as you will see.]

Yesterday was mostly a really great day. I spent five hours in the basement organizing! That’s the great part. The not-so-great part is that it was February 10th and I was only then stowing my holiday decorations.

Several things leap to mind:

  • Life has been hectic, so slack must be cut.
  • A lot of energy has been devoted recently to the gluten-free effort.
  • We have too much crap.

I am embarrassed even to posit that first excuse.

I am busy, life is hectic, blah blah blah. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was/is to embrace and personify the adage, “Energy Begets Energy!” This can be a tough concept for me in the depths of a wretched Chicago winter when a good book and a sweet white kitty warming my lap make me about as happy as I can be.

prrrrr

But Productivity in all its Vigorous Protestant Work Ethic manifestations puts the zip in my spirit as well. So, I decided to tackle my tedious winter inertia by committing to drinking more water and wearing more cashmere. Hydrated and hyperthermic [my spell check says, “really?”], I would conquer life’s to-do list with zealous industry and peerless efficiency.

Disclaimer: I have read 16 library books and 2 Christmas gift books so far this year, and my two black cashmere sweaters are covered in Sweet White Kitty’s fur.

I do find it tolerable that 2 of those completed books have to do with my second excuse. Now, I’m not saying this truly counts as productivity. I haven’t started a gluten-free revolution by my example which isn’t the point anyway, but I have reassured friends and family that I can still be included in social gatherings without requiring irksome accommodations and just maybe some of my GF treats are even pretty darn tasty. So there’s a win-win.

Now for that last bugaboo…

I definitely admit that I can be quite a judgmental pest about people possessing too much crap. Some see tchotchkes; I see waste, profligacy, spiritual turpitude. And don’t even get me started on the scourge of mini-storage facilities! A more insidious blight on our physical and moral landscape does not exist.

Enter my Achilles heel: Holiday decorations.

a tidy excess of holiday shame

Personal inventory (physical):

  • 8 large plastic tubs
  • 3 extra-large plastic tubs
  • 1 large flat bin for wrapping supplies
  • 7 large shopping bags
  • 1 large wicker basket of wrapping paper
  • 2 book-packing boxes
  • 1 three foot Christmas tree, permanently decorated
  • 3 seasonal wreaths
  • assorted holiday themed crockery and crystal

Personal inventory (spiritual):

  • 8 tubs, 2 packing boxes and 3 holiday wreaths’ worth of hypocrisy

Well, that was an illuminating exercise. Past time to drink the water and put on the sweater…

Stay tuned for the reckoning.

And I need a gluten-free cookie.

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